KEPPEL, Arnold Joost van (1670-1718)

KEPPEL, Arnold Joost van (1670–1718)

cr. 10 Feb. 1697 earl of ALBEMARLE

First sat 18 Feb. 1697; last sat 15 June 1715

bap. 30 Jan. 1670, 1st surv. s. of Oswald van Keppel, heer van der Voorst, baron van Keppel [Dutch], (d.1685) and Reinira Anna Geertruid, da. of Johan van Lintelo. educ. unknown; L.L.D., Camb. 1705. m. 15 June 1701, Geertruid Johanna Quirina (d. Dec. 1741), da. of Adam van der Duyn, heer van St Gravenmoer [Dutch], 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1685; KG 14 May 1700. d. 18 May 1718; will 11 May 1718, pr. 13 July 1721.1

Page of honour 1689-90; groom of the bedchamber 1690-5; master of the robes 1695-by 1701; gent. of the bedchamber 1701-2.

Col., regt. of carabineers (Dutch Army) 1694-1713, regt. of Swiss (Dutch Army) 1698-1713,2 regt. of ft. (Dutch Army) 1701-13; maj.-gen. of horse (Dutch Army) 1697-1701; lt.-gen. 1701-9; gen. 1709-13; capt. 1st tp. Life Gds. 1699-1710; gov. Tournai May-July 1713.3

Associated with: Kensington Palace (to 1702); De Voorst, Zutphen, Netherlands; The Hague, Netherlands.4

Likenesses: Arnold Joost van Keppel, earl of Albemarle, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, by (oils, c.1700, NPG); Arnold Joost van Keppel, earl of Albemarle by Sir Godfrey Kneller (oils, 1702, Chatsworth, Derbys.)

Having succeeded to his father’s lordship of Voorst in Gelderland in 1685 while still a minor, Arnold Joost van Keppel accompanied the stadtholder, William of Orange, on his invasion of England. He was made a page of honour shortly after the king’s coronation and a groom of the bedchamber in 1690. Known for his good looks, generosity, and affable and courtly manners, he quickly rose in William’s favour and became a rival of William’s older and most long-standing adviser Hans Willem Bentinck, earl of Portland. In May 1695, some months after the death of Mary, Keppel was promoted to be master of the robes, replacing William’s childhood companion and veteran Dutch follower, William Henry van Nassau van Zuylestein, who was created earl of Rochford. The king even arranged that Keppel’s suite of rooms in Kensington Palace communicated directly with his own, while leaving Portland without access to the king. There was speculation then, and has been since, that the widowed king and the young favourite had homosexual relations, facilitated by this arrangement of rooms. There is no evidence, however, outside of the libels of opponents to support this allegation, and it would appear that the two men spent the early hours of the morning closeted together on state business. What is not in doubt is the increasingly bitter and open dislike between Portland and Albemarle caused by William’s clear preference for the younger man, which almost led to a duel between the two rivals in 1696.5

Keppel was naturalized by an act of Parliament in January 1697.6 Just a few days after the act received the royal assent, a warrant was issued to raise him to the English peerage as earl of Albemarle. The choice of title was in part intended as a rebuff to John Granville, earl of Bath, who had opposed the ministry. Bath, who had long claimed that the reversion of the Albemarle title had been promised him by Charles II, was furious and fruitlessly entered a caveat against its grant to Keppel.7 Adding to the controversy, in March William further granted Albemarle 108,000 acres of forfeited Irish lands, at an income of about £4,000 p.a., even though Keppel had taken no part in the Irish campaign.8 Albemarle had been colonel of a Dutch regiment of carabineers from about 1694 and shortly after his elevation to the peerage was made a major-general of the Dutch horse, followed by a further commission as colonel of a regiment of Swiss soldiers fighting in the Dutch service. He was given the prestigious command of the first troop of Life Guards in England in 1699, instituted in the order of the garter the following year and made a gentleman of the bedchamber the year after that. Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, judged that Keppel

was raised from being a page into the highest degree of favour that any person had ever attained about the king … he disposed of every thing that was in the king’s power. He was a cheerful young man, that had the art to please, but was so much given up to his own pleasures, that he could scarce submit to the attendance and drudgery that was necessary to maintain his post. He never had yet distinguished himself in any thing, though the king did it in every thing.

In contrast to Portland, ‘the earl of Albemarle had all the arts of a court, was civil to all, and procured many favours’. 9

Macky described him in about 1702-3 as having ‘a great influence over the king; is beautiful in his person; open and free in his conversation; very expensive in his manner of living’. Albemarle was closely connected to some of Portland’s enemies at court: Edward Villiers, earl of Jersey, who became a close friend and colleague of the young earl, and his sister, Elizabeth Villiers, Lady Orkney, the king’s former mistress and frequent political intriguer. Macky even suggested that Albemarle’s rise at court was engineered by ‘Mrs Villiers’ and Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland, ‘to pull down my Lord Portland’.10 In 1699 Portland’s resentment grew so great that he resigned all his positions and retired from court, despite the king’s best efforts to retain him. Thomas Osborne, duke of Leeds, informed his daughter in April 1699 that ‘the feud betwixt [Portland], and my Lord Albemarle [is], now grown so great to live in one house, and the king was willing to permit Portland’s retreat rather than Albemarle’s’.11 Burnet confessed himself bewildered by the succession of two such different ‘favourites’ of the king, ‘they being in all respects men, not only of different, but of opposite characters: secrecy and fidelity were the only qualities in which it could be said that they did in any sort agree’.12

Albemarle first sat in the House of Lords on 18 Feb. 1697, a week after his creation as an English peer, but he only came to 12 of the remaining sittings of that session. He registered his proxy with Richard Lumley, earl of Scarbrough, on two occasions in this session during brief absences from the House of a few days – on 9 Mar. 1697 and then again on 19 Mar., which proxy he vacated three days later. He came to barely a quarter of the meetings in 1697-8 and on 4 Mar. 1698 received the proxy of Charles Beauclerk, duke of St Albans. Albemarle himself left the House on 7 Mar. and three days after that registered his own proxy with Jersey. Albemarle did not return to the House until 2 Apr., and on 20 June 1698 he received two proxies on the same day, from Jersey and Robert Sutton, 2nd Baron Lexinton. Jersey’s proxy was vacated upon his return to the House the following week but on 30 June 1698 in its stead William Maynard, 2nd Baron Maynard registered his with Albemarle.13

Albemarle was most involved in the House during the 1698 Parliament. He came to about a third of the sittings in 1698-9 and only slightly more in 1699-1700. It is very likely that he was as active in the giving and receiving of proxies during these sessions as he had been in 1696-7 and 1697-8 but this cannot be positively determined as the proxy registers do not survive. On 23 Feb. 1700 he followed the preference of William III and voted against the motion to adjourn into a committee of the whole to discuss the bill to continue the old East India Company as a corporation. The principal matter with which he was concerned in the 1699-1700 session was the Irish Forfeitures Resumption bill. He was involved both as one of the principal grantees of forfeited Irish land targeted by the bill and as one of the king’s parliamentary managers entrusted with ensuring the House followed William’s own shifting views. At first William was opposed to the measure, and it was rumoured that Albemarle, with Portland and Lady Orkney (all three grantees of Irish land) were ‘supposed to have hardened the king against the bill’, for which advice John (‘Jack’) Howe was threatening Albemarle with impeachment.14 The session, however, descended into stalemate as the two Houses argued over the Lords’ amendments to what the Commons considered a supply bill. William, apparently persuaded by Jersey, changed his mind and sought to convince the Lords to allow the unamended bill to pass in order to secure supply. Albemarle, Portland and Jersey did vote for the second reading of the bill on 4 Apr. 1700 but on 9 Apr. the House voted to adhere to its wrecking amendments. Albemarle missed this important division but coming to the House later that day, claimed that he had come on purpose to vote for the bill without the amendments.15 William Legge, earl of Dartmouth, later recounted that the following morning, 10 Apr., Jersey and Albemarle informed him that the king feared the rejection of the bill and urged Dartmouth to keep his Tory colleagues in the House until William’s ministers could muster a majority for the bill, ‘which they brought about at last, though they could prevail with nobody to come over to us besides themselves’.16

James Vernon had a different story. He told Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, that Albemarle was a reluctant opponent of the bill and all along was trying to play a double game. Vernon thought that while Portland continued to agitate against the bill in the Lords in his speeches and votes, Albemarle desisted only in his vocal opposition, ‘as to the soliciting part’, but that his votes told a different story. He told Shrewsbury that Albemarle’s absence at the vote of 9 Apr. was intentional and that he still voted in favour of adhering to the wrecking amendments on 10 Apr., when the motion to adhere was only lost by the equality of the votes after proxies were counted. Apparently only Jersey among the king’s agents actually obeyed their master’s wishes in this very tight division. The Commons targeted Portland in a resolution of the same day for an address to the king to remove all foreigners from the Privy Council. Vernon suggested that if the Commons had known Albemarle had continued to vote in favour of the amendments, they may have also agreed to a second motion made on 10 April. This asked the king to rid himself of all foreign-born commanders of English troops – such as Albemarle, a captain in the Life Guards. Indeed, earlier that day ‘some young Member’ had moved for the impeachment of both Portland and Albemarle.17 The rancorous end of the session on 10 Apr. also saw the Commons addressing the king for the dismissal of the Junto leader John Somers, Baron Somers. William was inclined to agree as he was convinced that Somers had mismanaged Parliament during the session. In the following weeks Jersey successfully worked on Albemarle to convince him, and through him the king, of the necessity of sacking Somers and bringing the Tories back into the ministry.18

Albemarle only came to 19 meetings of the first Parliament of 1701 and had left the House for that session by the time the vote on the impeachment of Somers and the other Junto ministers came before the House. During the summer of 1701 he was in the Netherlands discussing with the States-General preparations for the impending war with France, but he probably did not regret having to miss a potentially embarrassing vote, as he had pressed for Somers’s dismissal the previous year. He may well have entrusted a proxy to a colleague, but the proxy registers for this Parliament are not extant. He was similarly absent for most of the last Parliament of William III’s reign but returned from the Netherlands in December 1701 in time to attend William at his deathbed. William entrusted to him his papers (Jacobite rumour had it that William ordered him to burn them), made him one of his executors, and further bequeathed him 200,000 guilders in his will.19 Albemarle, who was reported to be ‘very ill of grief for the king’, attended seven more sittings of the House after William’s death. 20 He was one of the peers assigned by the House to inspect the late king’s papers in order to refute the rumour that William had tried to pass over Anne in the succession.21

At the accession of Queen Anne, Albemarle lost his place as gentleman of the bedchamber, although he did not surrender his place in the Life Guards, to Henry Bentinck, 2nd earl (later duke) of Portland, the heir of his old rival, until 1710. He retired to his home country in whose affairs he had long been involved through his military posts and his frequent sojourns as William III’s aide-de-camp during the summer campaigns in the Netherlands. In the summer of 1701, during his diplomatic mission to the States-General, he had married a Dutchwoman, the daughter of the governor of Bergen op Zoom and master of William III’s buckhounds. With the prospect of another war with France looming, he was that same year given his own regiment of infantry and promoted to lieutenant general of the Dutch horse. With these many commands he remained an important figure in the ensuing War of the Spanish Succession, during which he worked closely with his friend John Churchill, duke of Marlborough.22 He fought at Ramillies, Oudenarde and successfully led a convoy of arms and supplies to the besieging forces at Lille in 1708. After his success in these ventures he was promoted to general of the Dutch horse in 1709 but then suffered a devastating defeat at the battle of Denain in July 1712, where his 10,000 or so Dutch troops suffered a high rate of casualties and he was himself captured.23

Occupied with the Dutch war effort on the continent he barely ever attended the House of Lords at Westminster. He only came to ten sittings in the reign of Anne, during a brief span of time between 15 Feb. and 14 Mar. 1705, when he may have been in England to join Marlborough in the victory celebrations for Blenheim. During this short visit he was also awarded with an honorary law degree by Cambridge University. He did not take part in the domestic politics of the reign of Anne and did not even register his proxy for any of the sessions; at least his name is not among the few remaining proxy registers. Nor is it possible to determine Albemarle’s position in English politics. When Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, was forecasting the division for the second vote on the occasional conformity bill in December 1703 he commented that Albemarle ‘probably will come, uncertain what he will be, more likely bad’, that is, he predicted he would vote with the Tories in favour of the bill. Albemarle did not come over for the division. In a printed list of the Parliament of Great Britain, published in May 1708, Albemarle is clearly marked as a Whig. It is likely that his main agenda was the defeat of France and support of Marlborough’s war effort at home and abroad. Such reasons led him to follow the duke’s own changing political alliances and positions in English domestic politics.

After the death of Anne, Albemarle was entrusted by the States-General to convey their congratulations to the Elector of Hanover on his accession to the English throne and to receive him formally at the Dutch border as he proceeded on his way to England.24 With the installation of the new king, Albemarle attended 11 meetings of the House in the spring of 1715, before registering his proxy with Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset, on 20 June 1715. During the winter recess Albemarle transferred his proxy to the duke of St Albans on 22 Dec. 1715 and vacated his proxy with Somerset by letter early in the new year, on 18 Jan. 1716. In the two subsequent sessions of George I’s Parliament, Albemarle assigned his proxy to Evelyn Pierrepont, duke of Kingston (registered on 14 Feb. 1717 and 25 Nov. 1717 for the following session). Albemarle died at The Hague on 18 May 1718, barely a week after writing his last will, in which he entrusted the education and maintenance of his surviving son and daughter to his wife. His heir William Anne van Keppel – named after his godmother, the queen – succeeded as 2nd earl of Albemarle while still a minor and was to enjoy a long career of service to the Hanoverian monarchs, establishing through his many children a long-lasting dynasty of servants to the British crown.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/580.
  • 2 Het Staatsche Leger, vii. 237, 267.
  • 3 Ibid. 234, 267, 334; viii, pt. 3. pp. 430, 489.
  • 4 Horwitz, Parl. Pol. 203; J. Israel, The Dutch Republic, 886; Add. 61655, f. 72; Add. 61159, passim; TNA, PROB 11/580.
  • 5 Rev. Pols. 203-4, HMC Buccleuch, ii. 380.
  • 6 Hug. Soc. Quarto Ser. xviii. 241.
  • 7 CSP Dom. 1697, p. 19; Surrey Hist. Centre, 371/14/A/8b; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 176.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 82-84, 372; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 46; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 207, 215.
  • 9 Burnet, iv. 566.
  • 10 Macky Mems. 67-68; Shrewsbury Corresp. 533.
  • 11 Leics. RO, DG 7, bdle. 22, Leeds to his daughter, 25 Apr. 1699.
  • 12 Burnet, iv. 566.
  • 13 PA, HL/PO/JO/13/7.
  • 14 Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 3, 8.
  • 15 Ibid. 5, 17.
  • 16 Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 20, 24; Burnet, iv. 439-40; LJ, xvi. 576.
  • 17 Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 20, 23-24; Add. 28053, ff. 402-3; CJ, xiii. 321.
  • 18 Burnet, iv. 444-5.
  • 19 Ibid. 560; Verney ms mic. M636/51, C. Gardiner to Sir J. Verney, 10 Mar. 1702; HMC 10th Rep. v. 193-4.
  • 20 HMC Rutland, ii. 170.
  • 21 Timberland, ii. 36; Burnet, v. 14-15.
  • 22 Add. 61159, passim; Add. 61389, ff. 16-17, 31.
  • 23 Het Staatsche Leger, viii. passim; Bodl. Rawl. Letters 16, f. 34; Burnet, vi. 136-8.
  • 24 Ibid. ff. 184-5.