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Richard de Bury

AKA Richard Aungerville

Born: 24-Jan-1286
Birthplace: Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Died: 24-Apr-1345
Location of death: Auckland, Durham, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Philobiblon

Richard Aungerville, or Aungervyle, commonly known as Richard de Bury, English bibliophile, writer and bishop, was born near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, on the 24th of January 1296 or 1287. He was the son of Sir Richard Aungervyle, who was descended from one of William the Conqueror's soldiers, settled in Leicestershire, where the family came into possession of the manor of Willoughby. His education was undertaken by his uncle, John de Willoughby, and after leaving the grammar school of his native place he was sent to Oxford, where he is said to have distinguished himself in philosophy and theology. John Pits says, but apparently without authority, that he became a Benedictine monk. He was made tutor to Prince Edward of Windsor (afterwards King Edward III), and, according to Dibdin, inspired him with some of his own love of books. He was mixed up with the sordid intrigues which preceded the deposition of King Edward II, and supplied Queen Isabella and Mortimer in Paris with money in 1325 from the revenues of Guienne, of which province he was treasurer. For some time he had to hide in Paris from the officers sent by Edward II to apprehend him. On the accession of Edward III his services were rewarded by rapid promotion. He was cofferer to the king, treasurer of the wardrobe and afterwards clerk of the privy seal. The king, moreover, repeatedly recommended him to the pope, and twice sent him, in 1330 and 1333, as ambassador to the papal court, then in exile at Avignon. On the first of these visits he made the acquaintance of a fellow bibliophile in Petrarch, who records his impression (Epist. Famil. lib. III Ep. 1) of the Englishman as "not ignorant of literature and... from his youth up curious beyond belief of hidden things." He asked him for information about Thule, but Aungervyle, who promised information when he should once more be at home among his books, never sent any answer, in spite of repeated enquiries. Pope John XXII made him his principal chaplain, and presented him with a rochet in earnest of the first vacant bishopric in England.

During his absence from England he was made (1333) dean of Wells. In September of the same year the see of Durham fell vacant, and the king overruled the choice of the monks, who had elected and actually installed their sub-prior, Robert de Graystanes, in favour of Aungervyle. In February 1334 he was made lord treasurer, an appointment he exchanged later in the year for that of lord chancellor. This charge he resigned in the next year, and, after making arrangements for the protection of his northern diocese from an expected inroad of the Scots, he proceeded in July 1336 to France to attempt a settlement of the claims in dispute between Edward and Philip. In the next year he served on three commissions for the defense of the northern counties. In June 1338 he was once more sent abroad to secure peace, but within a month of his appointment Edward himself landed in Flanders to procure allies for his approaching campaign. Aungervyle accompanied him to Coblenz to his meeting with the emperor Louis IV, and in the next year was sent to England to raise money. This seems to have been his last visit to the continent. In 1340 and 1342 he was again engaged in trying to negotiate peace with the Scots, but from this time his life appears to have passed quietly in the care of his diocese and in the accumulation of a library.

He sent far and wide in search of manuscripts, rescuing many treasures from the charge of ignorant and neglectful monks. "No dearness of price", he says, "ought to hinder a man from the buying of books, if he has the money demanded for them, unless it be to withstand the malice of the seller or to await a more favorable opportunity of buying." It is to be supposed that Richard de Bury sometimes brought undue pressure to bear on the owners, for it is recorded that an abbot of St. Albans bribed him to secure his influence for the house by four valuable books, and that de Bury, who procured certain coveted privileges for the monastery, bought from him thirty-two other books, for fifty pieces of silver, far less than their normal price. The record of his passion for books, his Philobiblon, was completed on his fifty-eighth birthday, the 24th of January 1345, and he died on the 14th of April (May, according to Adam Murimuth) of that year. He gives an account (chapter VIII) of the unwearied efforts made by himself and his agents to collect books. In the eighteenth chapter he records his intention of founding a hall at Oxford, and in connection with it a library of which his books were to form the nucleus. He even details the rules to be observed for the lending and care of the books, and he had already taken the preliminary steps for the foundation. The bishop died, however, in great poverty, and it seems likely that his collection was dispersed immediately after his death. But the traditional account is that the books were sent to the Durham Benedictines at Oxford, and that on the dissolution of the foundation by King Henry VIII they were divided between Duke Humphrey of Gloucester's library, Balliol College and Dr. George Owen. Only two of the volumes are known to be in existence; one is a copy of John of Salisbury's works in the British Museum, and the other some theological treatises by Anselm and others in the Bodleian.

The chief authority for the bishop's life is William de Chambre (printed in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, 1691, and in Historiae Dunelmensis scriptores tres, Surtees Soc. 1839), who describes him as an amiable and excellent man, charitable in his diocese, and the liberal patron of many learned men, among these being Thomas Bradwardine, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Fitzralph, afterwards archbishop of Armagh, the enemy of the mendicant orders, Walter Burley, who translated Aristotle, John Mauduit the astronomer, Robert Holkot and Richard de Kilvington. John Bale and Pits mention other works of his, Epistolae Familiares and Orationes ad Principes. The opening words of the Philobiblon and the Epistolae as given by Bale represent those of the Philobiblon and its prologue, so that he apparently made two books out of one treatise. It is possible that the Orationes may represent a letter book of Richard de Bury's, entitled Liber Epistolaris quondam domini Ricardi de Bury, Episcopi Dunelmensis. This manuscript, the contents of which are fully catalogued in the Fourth Report (1874) of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (Appendix, pp. 379-97), contains numerous letters from various popes, from the king, a correspondence dealing with the affairs of the university of Oxford, another with the province of Gascony, beside some harangues and letters evidently kept as models to be used on various occasions.

It has often been asserted that the Philobiblon itself was not written by Richard de Bury at all, but by Robert Holkot. This assertion is supported by the fact that in seven of the extant manuscripts of Philobiblon it is ascribed to Holkot in an introductory note, in these or slightly varying terms: "Incipit prologus in philobiblon ricardi dunelmensis episcopi que libru composuit Robertus holcote de ordine predicatorum sub nomine dicti episcopi." The Paris manuscript has simply "Philobiblon olchoti anglici", and does not contain the usual concluding note of the date when the book was completed by Richard. As a great part of the charm of the book lies in the unconscious record of the collector's own character, the establishment of Holkot's authorship would materially alter its value. A notice of Richard de Bury by his contemporary Adam Murimuth (Continuatio Chronicarum, Rolls Series, 1889, p. 171) gives a less favorable account of him than does William de Chambre, asserting that he was only moderately learned, but desired to be regarded as a great scholar.

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