One of the two Austin Friars who became the local ordinary – the 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 Waldby 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 Waldby (or 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.
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 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.
The former large Augustinian church and monastery at Toulouse. Mainly built before 1341, these buildings largely survived the French Revolution by being quickly confiscated by the government and converted into the Musée des Augustins (Museum of the Augustinians), which is still in operation today.
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