One of the two early Austin Friars who became the local ordinary – a bishop in charge - of an English diocese, in contradistinction to over two dozen other English Augustinians who became assistant bishops, was Robert Waldeby (sometimes spelt de Waldeby or simply Waldby) O.S.A. His position and activities distinguish him so much from the average English Austin friar that he seems a man apart. This continued even after his death, when he became the only Augustinian to be buried in Westminster Abbey, London.
The township of Waldeby is situated in the parish of Rowley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, about twenty-eight miles (or thirty-five kilometres) from the city of York; but without direct evidence it is not easy to say whether the Archbishop took his surname immediately from the place of his birth (as was frequently the custom with churchmen), or whether it came to him by descent from his parent, because the surname Waldeby was found in numerous other places at that time. In the preceding generation there were two distinguished citizens of York, John de Waldeby, bailiff in 1357, and Richard de Waldeby, mayor in 1365; one of whom may have been his father. Robert Waldeby was born in about the year 1333.
Image (above): Part of the exterior of the very large Augustinian church (at left) and friary at Toulouse, France. Most of the buildings there were built in 1341, about thirty years before Robert Waldeby arrived there. Since their confiscation at the time of the French Revolution, the buildings have served as the Musée des Augustins ("Museum of the Augustinians") of the French national government. It is a museum of art and sculpture, and not a museum about the Augustinians.
Robert Waldeby had obtained an education and possibly had chosen himself a career path before he entered the Austin Friars. His main prompting for joining, at about the age of thirty years, was probably the deep impression made on him by John Waldeby O.S.A. (c 1314 – 1372), a theological author and famous preacher. John Waldeby is stated to have been Robert’s stern older relative; some have suggested John might even have been Robert's older brother, but this genetic connection has never been satisfactorily established. John apparently was the Provincial of the Augustinian Order in England at the time he travelled to an Augustinian General Chapter held in Perugia, Italy in 1354. This would have been less than five years before Robert Waldeby joined the Order.
Robert entered the Order as already a doctor utriusque juris (“Doctor of both laws,” i.e., civil law and canon law), and had studied medicine besides. Either the urgent need for priests after the second great pestilence of 1361 (a recurrence of the Black Death) and/or his previous studies was why he was granted all the holy orders from acolyte to priesthood within the short period of twelve months. He was ordained acolyte on 22th May 1361 and became a priest on 12th March 1362. A fortuitous circumstance then sent him to Toulouse. In 1365 Pope Urban V issued an extraordinarily sharp command to the Austin Friars to send gifted students to the university in Toulouse, his own alma mater, to obtain theological degrees – a somewhat provincial request when the English Augustinian Province had the use of Augustinian studia generalia (study houses for Augustinian candidates) attached to the universities of both Oxford and Cambridge that were both rated more highly than Toulouse.
The English Augustinian Province obeyed the Pope, however, and Waldeby was no doubt rather willing to go because in Toulouse he would not encounter the larger numbers of friars at Oxford and Cambridge, and consequently would not have to wait in line for so long for a place in the doctoral program. This indeed proved to be the case, because by 1370 he had obtained his mastership (now called a Doctorate) in theology. Possibly the fact that he already was academically qualified in civil law, canon law and medicine had allowed him to forego some preparatory courses that otherwise would have been prerequisite study.
Apparently after completion of his studies Waldeby remained in the large Augustinian house in Toulouse tutoring and lecturing, and, in a way that would seriously shape his life henceforth, came into contact with English royalty and with the political interests of the English throne. This began when in Toulouse Waldeby met the Black Prince, who made him a tutor of his son, the future King Richard II. Other historians also describe Waldeby as a chaplain to the Black Prince, and also as a personal physician to him. In considering the latter, it is necessary to keep in mind the traditional distinction between being a physician (practicising “bloodless” medicine by adopting only non-surgical remedies) and being a surgeon (using a scalpel) – a distinction that is still followed in basic medical education today.
Images (above): (At left) In July 1362 King Edward III gave his oldest son, the Black Prince, title to his French territories. (At right) It was the eldest son of the Black Prince whom in childhood Robert Waldeby tutored and who became King Richard II.The Black Prince was Edward, Prince of Wales, who was born on 15th June 1330, and who died on 8th June 1376. (The title, Black Prince, was not used during his lifetime, but was a later invention.) He was the eldest son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault, and was the father of King Richard II of England – born 1367, became king in 1377 at the age of ten years, and died in 1399; he was featured by William Shakespeare in his drama, Richard II. The Black Prince was never King of England himself because he died a year prior to his father. In July 1362 King Edward III handed over to the Black Prince all his dominions in southern France, along with the title of Prince of Aquitaine. In February 1363 Edward and his wife Joan took ship for his new French domains in Gascony, which became their ordinary place of residence for the next eight years, maintaining a brilliant court at Bordeaux and Angoulême.
The Black Prince had two sons by his wife Joan: the first, Edward, was born at Angoulême sometime in 1364-1365, and died immediately before his father's return to England in January 1371, and was buried in the Church of the Austin Friars, London. Could that place of burial have been influenced by and arranged by Robert Waldeby? The second son, Richard, became King Richard II. When John Gaunt succeeded his older brother, the Black Prince, in France, Waldeby quickly rose in public stature. In 1383 he was chosen as one of four ambassadors sent to Spain to arrange the marriage of Gaunt to a Spanish princess and thus guarantee peace with that country. Later he was sent on two other diplomatic missions, one of which was to discuss terms of peace with John, Duke of Lancaster, who had established his title to the Kingdom of Castile and Leon; the other was to demand submission and obedience to the English King from John, Earl of Armagnac.
Previously on 17th-21st May 1382, Waldeby was called to London to join the so-called Earthquake Council that condemned as heretical twenty-four theological conclusions attributed to John Wyclif. The Council comprised two graduates with a doctorate of divinity of Oxford who were bishops, one doctor ex-Cambridge, and Robert Waldeby, described as a doctor of Toulouse. It is possible that Waldeby became Bishop of the Diocese of Sodor and Man in 1381 (the Isle of Man), but this may be a historical misinterpretation. Waldeby did, however, on 4th June 1386 become Bishop of Aire in Gascony when its former incumbent had joined the Avignon Obedience. In 1389 he was appointed as the Chancellor of the Aquitaine (i.e., the king of England’s official records-keeper and notary of official documents). The affairs of both Church and State were very much in his hands.
The Great Western Schism within the Church had begun in 1378. France generally followed the Avignon Obedience (i.e., the claimant of the papacy who was resident in Avignon), except for that section of France under English control, which like England followed the Roman Obedience (i.e., the claimant of the papacy who was resident in Rome). The fact that some territory in France was under English control made the administration of the Augustinian Order there difficult for the Augustinian Prior General. Just as the Great Western Schism generated the phenomenon of “two popes,” so too within the Augustinians as in other religious orders there came to be “two Priors General” – one in Avignon who reported to the Avignon pope, and the other in Rome who reported to the Roman pope.
The Augustinians in the English-controlled section of France, therefore, were granted a Vicar General by the Prior General in Rome, seeing their Provincial lived in Toulouse, which was part of the Avignon Obedience. Hence on 26th May 1384 Master (i.e., meaning in the language of the day that he possessed a Doctorate) Robert Waldeby was made the Augustinian vicar general of all Augustinian houses in the Province of Aquitaine. And then on 7th June 1387 Prior General declared that all French Augustinians in the Duchy of Aquitaine were in good standing within the Order, and that all privileges granted by his vicar, Robert Waldeby, were to be honoured like those by the Provincial of Toulouse. Obviously the Provincial in Toulouse (within the Avignon Obedience) had penalised or “excommunicated” the friars living in English-held lands for following the directives of Waldeby, and the Prior General of the Roman Obedience had come to their rescue.John Gaunt, the third son of King Edward III, a younger brother of the Black Prince, and one of England’s foremost military commanders in the 1370s and 1380s, failed with his successive small English armies in a number of military campaigns in France during 1370-1378 principally for lack of money, and Waldeby had to share this burden. Waldeby was granted in 1390 the paltry sum of £40 “in consideration of his good services and the great expenses in behalf of the person of the king.” The King in question was Richard II (king from the age of ten in 1367, and reigning until 1400), whom Waldeby had tutored in France just before the latter would soon unexpectedly become a boy king. Whether Waldeby ever received this of £40 in recompense is not known. In the same year (i.e., in December 1390) he was appointed Archbishop of Dublin,
Waldeby’s papal letter of appointment from Pope Boniface IX still exists in the Public Records Office in London, specifying the fact that the appointment is exclusively reserved to the pope. The document required Waldeby to take an oath of fealty to the Pope and the Holy See before the Bishop of London and the Bishop of St Aspath (Wales).
Concurrent notifications of Waldeby’s appointment were sent to King Richard II, the Chapter and the Diocese of Dublin, and Waldeby’s archiepiscopal pallium (a ceremonial liturgical stole) were sent to him at the same time. King Richard II then issued a mandate to the Judiciary and the Chancellor of Ireland to hand over to Waldeby the temporalities of the See of Dublin, and charged him by royal command to suppress all heresy in the archdiocese and to arrest all who persisted in preaching doctrines condemned by the Church. The Lollards, the followers of John Wyclif had carried their preaching campaign to the English Pale in Ireland, and were causing considerable anxiety to the clergy.
Owing to the disturbed conditions within the Pale and its borders, Waldeby found it difficult to secure even the smallest portion of the revenues due to his temporalities. He was, however, independent of these, as the King had bestowed on him in 1390 the rich benefice of the Priory of Hornchurch, Essex. The Pope also demonstrated his concern for Waldeby’s financial situation, and in 1392 issued a document authorising Waldeby to levy an ecclesiastical tax, and also to fill any vacant benefices in the archdiocese that were a papal right to assign; with this authority, Waldeby could grant these benefices to persons assisting him who required financial support. In 1391, his first year as the Archbishop of Dublin, Waldeby apparently saw little of his new diocese. During 1391 he was commissioned to travel to Calais and Gascony on royal business; during this absence from Dublin, he appointed the Chancellor of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, to administer his archdiocese. All through 1391 he was absent from Dublin more for political than religious reasons, as his appointment as the king’s Chancellor of Ireland in 1392 illustrates. He stayed in England “to survey the muster of men of arms, armed men, archers and others, whom by advice of the Council the king has ordered to Ireland.”
When everything was ready in 1394 he sailed with the king to Ireland. Waldeby then contributed to the entertainment of King Richard II when the king spent Christmas in Dublin. Shortly afterwards, he was one of the ambassadors sent to negotiate a peace treaty with the King of France. There Waldeby and the young Count of Rutland successfully mediated a truce of four years, one of the conditions being that King Richard II of England marry Isabelle of Valois, the daughter of Charles VI, King of France – which then happened in 1396. While he was Archbishop of Dublin, did Waldeby do anything to assist the Augustinian Order in Ireland? In response to that question, there is no evidence on way or another. The general observation, however, has been made by the historian, Fr Francis Roth O.S.A., that the weight of evidence suggests that Waldeby seemingly kept aloof from his confreres.
On a broader perspective, there are differences among scholars in their impression of how much Waldeby was able to be an agent of the King and an agent of the Pope, not through choices in allegiance but because of the need to apportion his time and talent between two masters. Admittedly, Waldeby's work for the King has left the greater evidence in extant records, but this should not be taken as proof that Waldeby neglected his work for the Church. Some ealier laudatory writings about his dedication do seem, nevertheless, to be presumptuously imbalanced towards his episcopal in relation to his twofold workload. By all accounts he was quite intelligent, and capable in discharging his responsibilities.
Images (above): (At left) In 1397 Thomas of Woodstock, the first Duke of Gloucester, having confessed to the crime of treason, was murdered in prison in Calais on 8th-9th September 1397. It is suspected that his uncle, the reigning King Richard II, was complicit with the deed. (At right) York Minster (Cathedral), which was largely completed before Robert Waldeby O.S.A. became Archbishop of York in 1396.The Augustinians had been in Dublin since at least 1275, and in Dublin were then still English-born, still part of the Augustinian Province of England, and certainly its most impoverished part of the English Province. There were also then difficulties with Irish in England, such that it was decreed that all Irish resident in England had to leave England by September 1393, or face death. Irish-born clergy and religious were exempt from this ruling, but the Augustinian Prior General nevertheless chose to adopt it out of a concern for the safety of their young men in England whose study thereby reluctantly would have to be halted. It may have been the first step towards the Augustinians' finally managing to open their own studium (a study house for Augustinian candidates) in Dublin some time before the year 1421.Like some Englishmen of later times, Waldeby seems to have regarded a residence in Ireland as an expatriation, and on 25th October 1395 he was contented to resign his archiepiscopal dignity in Dublin for the less prestigious but closer-to-home Diocese of Chichester, embracing the county of Sussex. His debts must have plagued Waldeby a great deal. Thomas Walsingham O.S.B., a chronicler who died in 1422, unkindly remarked, “He exchanged the higher prelacy for a lower but better paying one.” Walsingham should have credited Waldeby with a sense of responsibility rather than of avarice. To the contrary, Waldeby had in fact jumped from the frying pan into the fire because the papal tax for Chichester was 1,330 florins in gold, a huge sum in those days. He received the temporalities (“the keys”) for this diocese on 13th January 1396.
When in 1396 the unfortunate Archbishop Thomas Arundel had for political (and not ecclesiastical) reasons to vacate both the Chancellorship of England and the Archdiocese of York – the second most important See in England - Waldeby on 4th June 1397 was eventually appointed to York - his native diocese - in place of Thomas Arundel. King Edward, with his grip on the English throne becoming increasingly challenged and insecure, obviously wanted England’s second-most-important diocese in the hands of somebody who was going to loyal to him. He did not look beyond his immediate field of vision, and favoured Waldeby for the post. With this new appointment, however, Waldeby’s debts again increased because he had to pay 10,000 florins to Rome.
In 1397 Thomas of Woodstock, the first Duke of Gloucester, having confessed to his crime of treason, the House of Commons directed that “Bishop Waldeby is to ask all parishes in his province to offer special prayers at all Masses, suffrages, sermons and devotions that God may have mercy on his soul.” While awaiting trial, Thomas (1355–1397) had been murdered in prison in Calais on 8th-9th September 1397. Waldeby’s former young pupil, by now an unpopular King Richard II, was thought to have been to some extent involved in the demise of Thomas of Woodstock, his uncle, whom he may have thought it less odious to have his uncle murdered by an unknown hand in Calais rather than have him officially executed in London after a very public court appearance for treason - true-life Shakespearean drama indeed! Although Archbishop of York, Waldeby was pressed to remain in London so that his political acumen was available to King Richard II; hence when Waldeby died suddenly on 29th December 1397 while attending the fateful parliament of 1397, he had not even visited the Archdiocese of York whose control he had assumed seven months previously. King Richard II immediately took all of Waldeby’s possessions into his own hands, and returned them to his successor only after having received the promise that the 500 marks owed to him would be paid.
Images (above): (At left): a copy of the monumental brass of Robert Waldeby at his tomb in Westminster Abbey. (Top right): Statue of the Black Prince on his grave in Canterbury Cathedral. (Bottom right:) Richard II as a young king, the person whom Waldeby tutored in boyhood.
By order of King Richard II, his former tutor, Waldeby was buried in Westminster Abbey, London in the very middle of St Edmund’s Chapel, under a marble tomb, with a Latin epitaph. His monument is the earliest inscribed monument of its kind still in existence that was made of brass. Its worn condition suggests that originally it was level with the pavement, but now it is attached to the wall. A remarkable number of ministers and courtiers of King Richard II are commemorated by brasses. This is probably because Henry Yevele, the king’s master mason, was closely connected with the most active brass engraving workshop of the day. It is no surprise that the grandest of the Ricardians’ brasses are to be found in Westminster Abbey; the two that stand out are those of Archbishop Robert Waldeby O.S.A. and of Eleanor de Bohun, who was the Duchess of Gloucester and the widow of the murdered first Duke of Glocester mentioned previously.
The inscription on Waldeby’s tomb was already mutilated when Sir James Ware described it in 1665 in his book, History of Irish Bishops. The entire epitaph, however, was earlier recorded in full in a manuscript in Sir Robert Cotton's library. It has been translated into English hereunder:
Here’s Robert crushed within these marble jaws,
Sirnamed Waldby, skilled in both the laws,
A great Divine, a great Physician too,
And generous patron of the needy crew;
A Privy Counsellor, the Laws he loved,
Twice in the See of Air was dignified,
And afterwards o’re Dublin did preside
And thence to Chichester, and forth to York removed;
He died in thirteen hundred and ninety seven,
The twenty ninth of May; Pray that in heaven
Among the Saints, he may be ever blest
And here may be undisturbed in quiet rest
At the time, it would not have been unusual that Waldeby had been the Archbishop of York for seven months but had not visited his diocese during that time, or that earlier as Archbishop of Dublin he had been absent for a year on the King’s political matters in London; the practice episcopal absenteeism was not rare. Even more so a century later in the time of Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, a bishop had virtually become a royal official drawing a pension from the Church’s revenues; the future bishop’s ambition and cleverness brought him to the king’s notice, and he looked to the king for preferment and, after becoming a bishop by royal recommendation, continued to serve the king by undertaking either embassies or diplomatic missions.
Photos (at right)
Various exterior and interior views of York Minster (cathedral), which was mainly completed before Robert Waldeby became Archbishop there in 1396.
In Waldeby’s day it was unusual for a member of a religious order to be a bishop in charge of an English diocese, because a member of a religious order usually did not have exposure to the path that normally enhanced the possibility of such an appointment. This path involved a long period of working in the royal bureaucracy while still only a minor cleric (i.e., a student for priesthood who as yet possessed only minor orders, and not yet priesthood). The approval of the king was an important factor is a candidate’s nomination to the Pope for episcopal appointment. Waldeby had entered this career path to the episcopacy through his contact with the royal court when he was in France and in contact with John of Gaunt, one of the most powerful men of royal lineage at that time. Along with John Lowe O.S.A., Robert Waldeby O.S.A. was one of only two Austin Friars (Augustinians) who were bishops in charge on English diocese between, the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256 and the suppression of the English monasteries and friaries by Henry VIII in 1538 -1539. Like Waldeby, Lowe also came to receive an episcopal mitre through unusual circumstances. The third Augustinian to lead an English diocese is the Bishop of Lancaster, Michael Gregory Campbell O.S.A. who assumed that position on 1st May 2009.
With no longer any influence of the English monarch in either the selection or appointment of Catholic bishops in the United Kingdom, a member of a religious order can be called to the episcopacy by the papacy based on merit and his personal qualities. It is current practice to have religious priests become bishops of a small percentage of dioceses, although the position is still much more frequently given to diocesan clergy. Only a few records mention Robert Waldeby's purely religious activities. In 1391 he was given permission to arrest preachers of heresy in Ireland. Waldeby had always opposed heresy. As already mentioned, he participated in the Earthquake Council held at London in 1382, which unanimously condemned twenty-four statements attributed to John Wyclif as being heretical.
The matrices (template) of Waldeby’s seal as Archbishop of York still exist. Its continued existence is a rarity, because usually the matrices are intentionally destroyed on the day of the funeral of the bishop in question to preclude all possibility of their subsequent use fraudulently. In this case, it is possible that, as Archbishop Waldeby lived for so brief a time after his appointment to York, this template of his seal might never actually have been delivered to him. The dexter side of the shield is occupied with an archiepiscopal pall surmounting a crosier; and these appear to have been the usual armorial insignia of the Archbishops of York down to the period of the Reformation. The same insignia continues to be borne by the Archbishops of Canterbury to the present day, and also by the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin. The cross keys has long before been given as the arms of the Church of York. The cross-keys of course refer to St Peter, to whom York minster (cathedral) is dedicated: and so does the crown, or tiara ; for one mode of representing St Peter was in the costume of the popes, and the crown, as engraved on the seal, is of the form of the papal crown, or tiara.
As to any literary output, Waldeby has been attributed with the composition of a small number of works, none of which have survived. From their known titles, these works seem apparently to have been no more than manuscript collections of a few of his lectures, sermons and “varia” (i.e., short writings on various topics). The library of the former Augustinian friary at York listed some ascetical treatises of John Waldeby, and carefully collected them. They no longer exist, and the names of some of his lost works are known only through this catalogue. Waldeby’s active lifestyle devoted to the king’s business and ecclesiastical administration would have precluded most persons from producing scholarly publications as well, the likes of Augustine of Hippo being an exception.
Furthermore, confusion about the quite separate identities of the slightly earlier John Waldeby O.S.A., who was a fine preacher, theologian and quite a prolific author, and Robert Waldeby O.S.A. persisted for centuries, let alone further confusion caused by the similarity of Robert’s surname with that of a slightly earlier English Augustinian scholar, Geoffrey Hardeby O.S.A. (c. 1320 – c. 1385). The place of Robert Waldeby O.S.A. (c. 1333 – 1397) in the history of the English kingdom is more significant than his place in the history of the Austin Friars. Like his fellow Austin Friar born about 120 years later, Bernard André O.S.A. (c. 1450 – c. 1521), possibly the best that could be said of him as a friar is that he served the Augustinian Order by serving the king, although in the case of André there was additionally his manuscript, Commentary on St Augustine’s De civitate dei, which has survived.
It is not difficult to see how the role of King Richard II in Waldeby’s life was not much different from the monarch’s role in a person who was Archbishop of York in the Church of England after the Protestant Reformation, except that papal authority had been banished from the equation. Link
Robert Waldeby. From the website of Westminster Abbey. http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/robert-waldeby AN4384