Hardeby was a confessor of the Prince of Wales before he ascended to the throne of England as King Richard II.
Hardeby became Provincial of the Augustinian Order in England in 1360, after his predecessor was arrested by the King in mysterious circumstances. Was Hardeby a royal nominee for this office? Further evidence is lacking, but it is clear that there was considerable opposition to him within his own ranks. He was Provincial from 1360 until 1372, except for a brief period in 1366 – 1367 when John Goodwhich held that office.
His terms of office as Provincial in England coincided with the expansion of the English Province of the Order, which lends credence to the traditional view that Hardeby was influential in the court of King Edward III, and possibly also had been at some stage the king’s confessor. Hardeby was granted a royal pension several weeks before King Edward’s death; the pension continued, as it is recorded that it was halved three years later.
Hardeby made his contribution to the defence of mendicant clergy against criticism from the secular clergy, and particularly from Richard Fitz-Ralph, who had become a Doctor of Theology at Oxford in 1331, Chancellor of the University in 1332-1334 and Archbishop of Armagh from 1346 to his death in 1360.
With years of first-hand experience with the papal court at Avignon before becoming an archbishop, in England Fitz-Ralph became a champion of the secular clergy and a formidable opponent of the papal privileges given to the mendicant orders. He was a formidable opponent, although intemperate in his words from the pulpit on the controversy.
This controversy between the friars and the secular clergy had long been simmering, and now in London had reached a particularly bitter phase. Using privileges granted them by the Pope that often exempted them from obligations and taxes to the local bishop, the mendicant orders caused umbrage when they were too vigorous in insisting on their privileges, especially within the intricate internal legislation of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Some secular clergy accused the friars of misusing and of actually abusing their privileges.
And increasing instances of the mendicants’ lifestyle demonstrating affluence rather than poverty were noticed by their opponents. As a line of argument, Fitz-Ralph adopted the thesis that the very absence of their vowed poverty was sinful and hence, by virtue of their sinfulness, the existence of these orders was no longer legitimate.
Fitz-Ralph thus attacked not only the privileges of the friars, in particular their right of participating in the care of souls, but also questioned their right to exist and the merit of begging and voluntary poverty as being inconsistent with the teaching of Christ.
Complaints against the mendicant orders were formally raised at a London church council meeting of 16th May 1356, and Fitz-Ralph was in London only weeks later. In following months he delivered a series of sermons in support of the complaints, finishing on 25th March 1357.
For a summary of the history of the Order of St Augustine (Austin Friars) in England and Scotland, click here.