- Nicholas Doggett
Keepe, Henry (1652–1688), antiquary, was born in 1652 in Fetter Lane in the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-West, London, the son of Charles Keepe, a member of Sir William Courtney's cavalry regiment during the civil war and later employed in the exchequer. Keepe went to New Inn Hall, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner in 1668 but left without taking a degree and returned to London to study law at the Inner Temple. To this, however, he had a 'natural aversion' and, left to his own devices through his father's death which had occurred while he was still at Oxford, Keepe abandoned the law also. Later he related how:
my genius and inclination leading almost from my cradle for solitude … I gave myself the liberty of pleasing my own fancy … [in the pursuit of knowledge which is] … not only the chiefest accomplishment of a gentleman but highly satisfactory in itself.BL, Sloane MS 1011, fol. 1v
For eighteen years a member of Westminster Abbey's choir, Keepe published Monumenta Westmonasteriensia, or, An Historical Account of the Abbey Church of Westminster in 1682. This was reprinted in slightly expanded form the following year, but a prospectus for a fuller version illustrated by copperplate-engravings failed to elicit sufficient subscriptions and the larger project had to be abandoned. Keepe's other published works were The Genealogies of the High-Born Prince and Princess George and Anne of Denmark (1684) and A true and perfect narrative of the strange and unexpected finding of the crucifix and gold chain of that pious prince St. Edward, the king and confessor, which was found after 620 years interment (1688), the latter under the pseudonym Charles Taylour and describing his discovery of the two splendid objects which he had presented to James II in 1685. Keepe also began (c.1684) a manuscript survey of York, concentrating on a detailed description of the coats of arms in the city churches, a work acknowledged for its heraldic information by Francis Drake in his Eboracum (1736).
Keepe wrote an incomplete and undated manuscript account of his life but as much of it is little more than a rambling recollection of an encounter with a group of beggars, it reveals virtually nothing of his personality beyond a certain priggishness, while of his individual circumstances there is only Anthony Wood's statement that 'This person had changed his name with his religion for that of Rome, in the reign of King James II, his lodgings also several times, and died, as I have heard, but in a mean condition' (Wood, Ath. Oxon., 4.239). This occurred at his lodgings in Carter Lane, near St Paul's, in early June 1688; Keepe was buried on 11 June in St Gregory by Paul adjoining the cathedral.
Keepe's claim that Monumenta Westmonasteriensia was both more comprehensive and accurate in its details than the earlier accounts by Camden, Stow, and Weever has some substance. Its combination of evidence from 'authentick records and Testimonies' with first-hand observation of a building he knew well for many years makes it a unique and useful record of the abbey immediately prior to the extensive repairs carried out by Wren after 1698. Importantly, Keepe was the first of the abbey's historians to comment on the preservation of the great pavement in front of the high altar, 'that noble and most glorious inlaid floor still remaining intire … so laid and wrought to the Spectator's satisfaction that you are unwillingly drawn from the sight thereof' (H. Keepe, Monumenta Westmonasteriensia, 1683, 32). But it is chiefly for the accurate recording of the church's many monuments, complete with their heraldry, several of which have subsequently been destroyed or displaced, that his work remains of enduring value.
- E. W. Brayley and J. P. Neale, The history and antiquities of the abbey church of St Peter, Westminster, 2 (1823), esp. n. 71
- Gillow, Lit. biog. hist., 3.677
- Wood, Ath. Oxon., new edn, 4.238–9
- T. Moule, Bibliotheca heraldica Magnae Britanniae (privately printed, London, 1822), 222
- F. Drake, Eboracum, or, The history and antiquities of the city of York (1736), preface
- BL, Sloane MS 1011 [autobiography]
- parish register, St Gregory by Paul, London [burial]
- BL, incomplete MS autobiographical account, Sloane MS 1011