Bury, Richard de (DNB00)
|←Bury, John (1580-1667)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 08
Bury, Richard de
BURY, RICHARD de (1281–1345), bishop of Durham, was the son of Sir Richard Aungerville, and is known as. Richard de Bury from his birthplace of Bury St. Edmunds. His father died when he was a child, leaving him to the charge of his uncle, John de Willoughby, a priest. Richard studied at Oxford, where he gained distinction as a scholar. On leaving Oxford he became a Benedictine monk at Durham. He was chosen on account of his learning to be tutor to Edward of Windsor, son of Edward II, and afterwards Edward III. He was also treasurer of Guienne on behalf of his pupil. When Queen Isabella left her husband, taking her son with her, Richard supplied her with money from the revenues of Guienne. The king sent to seize him, but he fled to Paris. Thither he was pursued and had to take sanctuary. Isabella prospered in her opposition to her husband, and the young Edward III heaped honours on his former tutor, for whom he had a great regard. Richard was made successively cofferer, treasurer of the wardrobe, archdeacon of Northampton, prebendary of Lincoln, Sarum, and Lichfield, and keeper of the privy seal. He was twice sent as ambassador to Pope John XXII, who made him a chaplain of the papal chapel and allowed him to appear attended by twenty chaplains and thirty-six knights. In 1333 he was made dean of Wells, and at the end of the same year was appointed bishop of Durham by papal provision at the king's request. This appointment was in opposition to the wishes of the monks of Durham, who had elected their learned sub-prior, Robert de Graystanes. They were, however, unable to withstand the pope and king combined, and accepted Richard de Bury with a good grace.
Richard was consecrated bishop of Durham at Chertsey on the Sunday before Christmas Day 1333, in the presence of the king and queen, the king of Scots, and all the magnates this side the Trent. Rarely had a bishop met with such signal marks of favour. Next year he was made high chancellor of England, and treasurer in 1336. In 1335 he resigned the office of chancellor that he might serve the king as ambassador in Paris, Hainault, and Germany. In this capacity his coolness and clearness of judgment made him most valuable to the king, and he was again employed in 1337 as a commissioner for the affairs of Scotland. On the outbreak of the French war his diplomatic services came to an end, and he retired with satisfaction from public work to the duties of his own diocese. In 1342 he was again employed in the congenial task of making a truce with the Scottish king.
The lands of the bishopric were undisturbed during Richard's episcopate, and he was not called upon to engage in warfare which was entirely abhorrent to him. In the affairs of his diocese he was a capable official and a good administrator, as is shown by his chancery rolls, which are the earliest preserved in the archives of Durham. He was also an admirable ecclesiastic, beloved for his kindliness and charity. He was always ready to do the business of his office, and his progress through his diocese was marked by an organised distribution of alms to the poor, amounting in the case of journeys between Durham and Newcastle to eight pounds sterling. But Richard de Bury was above all things a scholar and a promoter of learning. He surrounded himself with learned men ; Thomas Bradwardin, Richard Fitzralph, and other less known scholars were among his chaplains. Some book was always read aloud to him when he sat at table, and afterwards he used to discuss with his attendants what had been read. He possessed more books than all the other bishops put together. Wherever he went his room was filled with books, which were piled upon the floor so that his visitors found some difficulty in steering a clear course. He had passionate enthusiasm for the discovery of manuscripts. He tells us himself (Philobiblon, ch. viii.) that he used his high offices of state as a means of collecting books. He let it be known that books were the most acceptable presents which could be made to him. He searched the monastic libraries and rescued precious manuscripts from destruction. His account of the state of English libraries is exactly parallel to that given by Boccaccio of the libraries of Italy. The manuscripts lay neglected, 'murium fœtibus cooperti et vermium morsibus terebrati.' Moreover Richard had agents in Paris and in Germany who were charged to gather books for his library. He deserves to rank among the first bibliophiles of England. Nor was he selfish in his pursuit. His aim was to raise the intellectual standard and to provide the necessary material for students. For this end he founded during his lifetime a library at Oxford in connection with Durham College, and made rules for its management. Five scholars were to be appointed librarians, three of whom were to be present and to assent to the loan of every book. He was anxious that all should be taught to use books carefully and respect them as they merited. He deplored the prevailing ignorance of Greek, and provided his library with Greek and Hebrew grammars. His literary sympathies were wide, and his library was by no means confined to theology. He declares his preference of liberal studies to the study of law, and urges that the works of the poets ought not to be omitted from any one's reading. While thus actively engaged in fostering learning he died at Auckland in 1345, and was buried in Durham cathedral.
Richard de Bury can scarcely claim to be regarded as himself a scholar ; he was rather a patron and an encourager of learning. He corresponds in England to the early humanists in Italy, men who collected manuscripts and saw the possibilities of learning, though they were unable to attain to it themselves. He was recognised as a member of the new literary fraternity of Europe, and was penetrated by the chief ideas of humanism, as the 'Philobiblon' sufficiently shows. Petrarch, who met him at Avignon, describes him as 'vir ardentis ingenii nec literarum inscius, abditarum rerum ab adolescentia supra fidem curiosus' (Epist. de Rebus Fam. iii. 1). Petrarch's account of his own relations with him harmonises with this description of an ardent amateur. Petrarch wished for some information about the geography of Thule, and applied to Richard, who answered that he had not his books with him, but would write to him on his return home. Though Petrarch more than once reminded him of his promise, he never received an answer. Richard was not so learned that he could afford to confess ignorance. His merit lies in his love for books, his desire to promote learning, and his readiness to learn from others. His rules for his library at Durham College were founded on those already adopted for the library of the Sorbonne, which he saw on his visit to Paris.
Bale, following Leland, speaks of a collection of Richard de Bury's 'Epistolæ Familiares.' This, however, seems to be a mistake. A manuscript 'Liber Epistolaris quondam Ricardi de Bury,' is in the possession of Mr. Ormsby-Gore, but it is a formal 'letter writer,' made for one engaged in business of various kinds: to this are appended a number of official letters, some of Ricard's own and many royal letters of importance (Historical MSS Commission, 4th Rep. 85, 5th Rep. 379, &c.) Richard's great work is the 'Philobiblion,' which was written as a sort of hand-book to his library at Durham College. It is an admirable treatise in praise of learning, at times rhetorical, but full of genuine fervour. 'No one can serve books and Mammon,' he exclaims, and he urges the refining influence of study. He gives an interesting description of the means by which he collected his library; he examines the state of learning in England and France. He speaks of books as one who loved them, and gives directions for their careful use. Finally, he explains his rules for the management of the library which he founded. The work is an admirable exhibition of the temper of a book-lover and librarian. The 'Philobiblon' was first printed at Cologne (1473); then by Hust, at Spires (1483); at Paris by Badius, Ascensius, and also by Jean Petit (1500); at Oxford, edited by Thomas James (1599); at Leipzig (1574), at the end of 'Philologicarum Epistolarum Centuriauna;' and, edited by Cocheris, again at Paris (Aubry), 1856. It was translated by J. Bellingham Inglis, London, 1832, and there is also an Amencan edition of this translation (Albany, l86l). Professor Henry Morley gives an epitome of the book in his 'English Writers,' ii. 43,&c. It was edited and translated again by Mr. E. C. Thomas in 1885.
Richard de Bury's library at Oxford was dispersed at the dissolution of the monasteries, when Durham College shared the fate of the monastic foundation to which it was annexed. Some of the books went to the Bodleian, some to Balliol College, and some to Dr. George Owen of Godstow, who purchased Durham College from Edward VI (Camden Brit. 1772, p. 310).[Extracts from the Chancery Rolls of Richard de Bury are given in Hutchinson's Durham, i. 288, &c. Ths authority for the life of Richard de Bury is William de Chambre in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i, 765; also Historiæ Dunelmensis Scriptores (Surtees Soc.), 1839, p. 139, &c, the documents in Rymer's Fœdera. vol. ii.; see, too, Bale's Script. Brit. Cat. (1548), p. 151; Godwin, De Præsulibus (1743), p. 747; Hutchinson's Durham, i. 284; Kippis's Biog. Brit., i. 370, under the name Aungervyie, Cocehris' preface to his Philobiblon, J. Bass Mullinger's University of Cambridge, i. 201, &c.]