Fitzralph [FitzRalph], Richard [called Armachanus]
before 1300, d.
1360), theologian and archbishop of Armagh
, was born shortly before 1300 in Dundalk, Louth, Ireland, where his family (known as Rauf) had close connections with the Franciscan community. The family was prominent and obviously prosperous.
Career at Oxford
.1314 to 1315 Fitzralph studied arts and theology at Oxford: he graduated MA in 1325, and was well advanced in the study of theology before acquiring an ecclesiastical benefice. By 25 July 1325 he had already resigned a fellowship at Balliol College, when he was present at a ruling given on the college statutes preventing students of theology from retaining their fellowships. Fitzralph graduated BTh in 1328, and three years later attained the magisterium. There is no concrete evidence that he acquired a fellowship elsewhere, though his close links with Merton College suggest this as a possibility.
Fitzralph studied in Oxford at a time when the university enjoyed an unprecedented reputation in logic, mathematics, and philosophy. Here he acquired a thorough grounding in logic and metaphysics, an impressive familiarity with the Bible
, the homiletic skills necessary to use this with effect in the pulpit, and a capacity for competent theological enquiry. Solely on the basis of this academic work, however, Fitzralph would merit little attention beyond the confines of medieval intellectual history. Apart from a brief biblical quaestio
, the only complete work that survives from this period is his commentary on the Sentences
of Peter Lombard. This was a statutory exercise, a basic requirement for the magisterium in theology. Whereas many of his academic contemporaries used such exercises to formulate original ideas, and so helped to change fourteenth-century thought, Fitzralph's work has long been regarded as conservative, as that of a conscientious, widely read, but unoriginal thinker. The recent identification and edition of his quaestio biblica
, composed after his commentary on the Sentences
, has led to a revision of this view, and suggests that he also helped to shape thought at Oxford in the 1330s.
Fitzralph soon acquired an influential patron, who was to remain his friend and model for life. John Grandison, bishop of Exeter (d
. 1369), in 1329 chose Fitzralph as tutor and travelling companion for his nephew John Northwode, a student at the University of Paris. Grandison recommended Fitzralph to his friends in Paris in glowing terms, and thus opened up a new range of intellectual influences among the leading biblical scholars of the day, notably the Franciscan Nicholas de Lyre (c
.12701349), which were to shape Fitzralph's subsequent pastoral work. He also owed early ecclesiastical preferment to the support of Grandison. On 24 May 1331 he was granted an annual pension of 100s
. by Grandison until a suitable benefice became available. By September 1331 he had obtained a canonry and prebend in Crediton, which he vacated in March 1336, and on 27 September 1331 a canonry in Exeter Cathedral by papal provision, which he still held in 1335. Other benefices in the diocese of Exeter followed, possibly also a canonry in his native archdiocese of Armagh.
Following his return from Paris, Fitzralph incepted as DTh in Oxford in 1331, and his election as chancellor of the university was confirmed by Henry Burghersh, bishop of Lincoln (d
. 1340), on 30 May 1332. His term of office (13324) was marked by turbulent events known as the Stamford schism. The strife arose partly because the student population saw itself as financially exploited by the townspeople, and partly because of tension between the northern and southern nations within the university community. Fitzralph, like all university members from Ireland, belonged to the southern nation. According to most reliable accounts of the episode, the dispute was sparked off by resentment among the northern masters resulting from alleged discrimination in the allocation of fellowships. As a result the northerners seceded to Stamford in Lincolnshire, where they set up an alternative university and rejoiced in the embarrassment of the chancellor. Fitzralph's handling of the crisis was undiplomatic, university authority broke down, and his critics taunted him in a satirical poem with newfound social pretensions and limited intellectual abilities.
The Armenian issue
However, Fitzralph retained the confidence of Edward III, of Bishop Burghersh, and of the university itself. The latter decided to take the matter before the pope in Avignon, and chose Fitzralph as one of its representatives. Hence the university schism provided a reason for the first of Fitzralph's four extended visits to Avignon, where curial contacts and papal patronage had a decisive effect on his subsequent career. On his arrival there a theological debateprovoked by the recently deceased Pope John XXII (r
. 131634)was in progress concerning the nature of the beatific vision enjoyed by souls after death and before the last judgment. Theologians newly arrived at the curia were requested to give their opinion: Fitzralph acquitted himself with distinction in opposition to the late pope's viewpoint, and soon became a sought-after preacher in the most renowned pulpits in Avignon, including those of the mendicant orders. On 10 July 1334 Pope Benedict XII (r
. 133442) provided him to the chancellorship of the diocese of Lincoln, but the provision seems not to have taken effect. On 17 December 1335, however, Fitzralph became dean of Lichfield Cathedral by papal provision, and he held this office until he became archbishop of Armagh in 1346. Meanwhile he was a member of the learned circle in the household of the bibliophile bishop of Durham, Richard Bury (d
Fitzralph's second, and longest sojourn in Avignon, from autumn 1337 until spring 1344, provided the occasion for the work which guaranteed his subsequent reputation as a churchman of distinction and vision. His Summa de quaestionibus Armenorum
outlived the petty squabbles of the mendicant controversies. Because of its discussion of such topics as papal primacy and ecclesiastical authority it was consulted by participants at the fifteenth-century councils of Basel and FerraraFlorence, who were concerned to promote union with the oriental churches. The work ensured that Fitzralph was remembered and quotednot always uncriticallyby distinguished theologians during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The Summa
, consisting of nineteen books in dialogue form, arose from Fitzralph's lengthy debates with representatives of the Greek and Armenian churches, who had come to Avignon to seek papal support against the threat of Islam. The work is revealing for its author's intellectual development, for his attitudes to scripture and speculative theology, as well as for his cultural contacts and place in the history of medieval thought, even though it never made the spectacular impact of either his theory of dominion or his campaign against the friars, both of which he developed later in his career.
The basis for discussion in the dialogue between Fitzralph and the Armenians was a list of 117 errors allegedly held by the Armenian church, which had been drawn up in 13412 following investigations inaugurated by Benedict XII. Fitzralph took as his guideline the literal interpretation of the Old
testaments. He was careful to point out that this emphasis on scriptural proof was determined by the circumstances: the Bible
was the only authoritative source accepted by all parties concerned. The work is nevertheless revealing for Fitzralph's own approach to the Bible
, and his emphasis on sola scriptura
would subsequently be used by the Lollards to claim him as one of their own. The Summa
also documents Fitzralph's theological conservatism, his opposition to modern theories circulating in and from Paris in the 1340s. More significantly, it revealsin the context of discussion about the rights of infidels to true sovereignty, lordship, and jurisdictionthe beginning of his preoccupation with the question, later developed further by John Wyclif (d
. 1384), of whether true lordship (dominium
) was dependent on its holder's being in the state of grace.
Archbishop of Armagh
Following the death of Archbishop David O'Hiraghty on 16 May 1346 the cathedral chapter of Armagh immediately elected Fitzralph archbishop, and communicated their decision to the papal curia. The speed with which the canons elected Fitzralph supports the view that he was one of their number. He had also remained in contact with his native archdiocese while in England, and arranged for the education of three of his nephews in Oxford. Pope Clement VI (r
. 134252) quashed the election as a violation of the papal right of provision, but duly confirmed the same candidate on 31 July 1346. Until Christmas 1346 Fitzralph resided in Lichfield, where he is last recorded as preaching on 3 December 1346, before travelling, via Burford, Oxfordshire, where he preached on 6 January 1347, to Devon. He was consecrated bishop on 8 July 1347 in Exeter Cathedral by John Grandison. In the meantime he had done homage to Edward III and received the temporalities of his see on 15 April 1347. Finally he received the pallium, the symbol of his metropolitan authority, from the pope on 28 August 1347. After his consecration Fitzralph spent some months in Devon, where he consecrated churches and administered the sacrament of confirmationin preparation for his new dutiesbefore travelling to Ireland early in 1348. Here his first recorded sermon was preached in Dundalk on 24 April 1348.
Fitzralph was a talented and conscientious preacher, and preached frequently before the pope and the English king. His remarkable Sermon Diary, a unique document in the history of late medieval homiletics, reflects his activities in this field, and its chronological detail helps to replace his missing episcopal register. The diary contains ninety-two items, most of them preceded by the title, date, and place of delivery, and spans the years 133559. Fitzralph invariably gives his own title and function at the time of delivering a particular sermon. Of the ninety-two items, fifty-fourmany of them fragmentaryare classified as having been delivered in the vulgate (English) language, although no English version has survived, presumably because he worked from Latin notes and drafts. The Latin sermons, many of them preached at the papal court in Avignon, survive in full text. In the early sermons preached after his return to Ireland as archbishop, Fitzralph depicts his coming in the same biblical language as the gospel narrative uses to describe Christ's coming among the Jews, thereby inviting comparison with his own arrival among his people, the citizens of Dundalk and Drogheda, as their pastor and guide. The contents of his vernacular sermons indicate that they were intended for unlearned congregations: commonplace themesimmorality, avarice, usury, assault, murder, penance and restitution, evasion of tithes, and alms-givingoccur most frequently.
Fitzralph spent so much of his episcopate outside his diocese that it might seem implausible to characterize him as a conscientious, pastorally minded prelate. Of the fourteen and a half years between his appointment to the see of Armagh and his death, he spent less than half in Ireland. His return to Avignon in 1349 was primarily connected with a pastoral issue for his flock, even if a willingness to linger in the congenial intellectual climate of the papal curia cannot be ignored. During his longest sojourn in Avignon, between 1337 and 1344, he had attained there the status of an Irish expert, and he now sought to exploit this position in the interests of his diocese and metropolitan province. His final visit to the curia, in 135760, was occasioned by the controversy over the friars' pastoral activities, a problem that potentially affected the entire Western church.
The reform of the Irish church
Fitzralph defended the primatial rights of his see against the archbishop of Dublin, despite the preference of the English crown for the latter. On 20 November 1349 the king forbade Fitzralph to have his primatial cross borne before him in Ireland, and on 18 February 1350 Edward III wrote to Cardinal Adhémar Robert, the nephew of Pope Clement VI, seeking to prevent Fitzralph from claiming primatial jurisdiction over the see of Dublin. Fitzralph also brought the matter to the papal curia. It has been argued that Pope Innocent VI (r
. 135262) decreed a compromise solution whereby the archbishop of Armagh would be primate of all Ireland and the archbishop of Dublin primate of Ireland (titles still in use today), but the original papal bull to this effect does not survive, and the remaining evidence is ambiguous. Because Fitzralph was not prepared to attend parliament in Ireland, or engage in other functions within the English lordship, unless his primatial rights were recognized within the metropolitan jurisdiction of Dublin, his opportunities for engagement in the normal political activities of Anglo-Irish prelateswhich occasioned absenteeismwere limited. This may explain why his long periods of absence from Armagh aroused little criticism. Furthermore he was seenfrom the early 1350s onwards, with regard to the mendicant questionby his fellow bishops and by the higher secular clergy as being absent in the pursuit of their common interest.
In the early 1350s Fitzralph inaugurated a vigorous programme of reform and visitation in his ecclesiastical province, and he held separate synods for the higher and lower clergy. The sermon preached to the higher clergy in 1352, and presumably delivered in Latin, survives in full in his Sermon Diary. It offers guidelines for dealing with pastoral problems and for the selection of appropriate candidates for the priesthood, but it also includes fierce criticism of moral deficiencies such as drunkenness and sexual licence, self-aggrandizement, and neglect of spiritual duties. Much more lenient is his sermon before an assembly of the lower clergy, which only survives in outline in the diary and was presumably preached in the vernacular. Here he is clearly instructing his own clergy in the diocese of Meath and the English part of his archdiocese of Armagh, and expounding before them his concept of the ideal priest.
In view of Fitzralph's strict approach to problems of moral theology which impinged on the social and economic behaviour of his flock, it is possible that many, including some of his own clergy, welcomed his absence on yet another polemical mission. Fitzralph's sermons reveal him as an attentive observer of social tensions and economic problems. Within a year of taking up office, he had identified two faults for special denunciationthe war between the English and Irish elements, and the general prevalence of theft and dishonesty. He constantly fulminated against the view that to kill, thieve, or plunder was merely a minor offence if committed against a member of the other community; he defended the rights of the weak, including widows and orphans, certainly numerous after the black death; he criticized the trade guilds, which practised their own form of closed shop by applying more severe conditions for the acceptance of apprentices from the Gaelic nation. Above all he denounced the merchants of Drogheda, who fiddled their account books to show no profit at the end of the financial year, and thus avoid paying tithes. When all other means failed to combat what he saw as greed and fraud, he placed the entire city under interdict (13523). In these pastorally orientated sermons in Ireland, Fitzralph frequently touched on the question of lordship, and was in the process of clarifying the distinction between legal rights enforceable in court and those that had a moral justification before God.
Even allowing for the preacher's inclination to overdramatize the situation, Fitzralph must have had sound reasons for the famous assessment of Irish society that he pronounced in a sermon in Avignon in August 1349. According to this accountwhich in his zeal may have done more harm than goodviolence was conditioned by the cultural clash between the two nations, and the Irish reputation for violence and theft was famous throughout Europe. Hence he argued for the benefits of the jubilee indulgence (1350) without the obligation of personal pilgrimage to Rome: his people had suffered so many hardships as a result of the black death, and they dared not go on pilgrimage for fear of the safety of family, lands, and livestock left unprotected at home.
Cults and pilgrimages
Fitzralph made a deliberate attempt to promote interest in the cult of St Patrick. One of the most colourful episodes in Fitzralph's episcopate enhanced the opportunities for doing so. This was the pilgrimage of the penitent Hungarian knight, Georg Grissaphan, who had confessed to numerous atrocities committed while on campaign in Apulia, and who sought to do penance by undertaking the ordeal of entry into the cave known as St Patrick's Purgatory on an island in Lough Derg, Donegal, in the diocese of Clogher. Grissaphan's visit was documented in an elaborate account of the twenty-six visions whichaccompanied by the Archangel Michael as his guidehe allegedly experienced. Grissaphan also claimed to have received messages from the archangel for the pope and secular rulers, and for the archbishop of Armagh concerning the well-being of his church. The core of this message concerned the absolution of a large city in his archdioceseclearly Droghedafrom interdict, a sentence that the angel obviously regarded as unjust, because only connected with financial matters.
Fitzralph gave Grissaphan testimonial letters affirming his pilgrimage. He also wrote a survey account of the pilgrim's visit and visions to his favourite nephew and his representative at the curia, Richard Radulphi, like himself an Oxford alumnus, so that he would be able to deal with the issue when Grissaphan arrived in Avignon. He further requested his nephew to show his letters concerning the affair to the cardinals. The Visiones Georgii
had a wide continental circulation in several vernacular languages. Propaganda for St Patrick and his purgatory was disseminated from Avignon, where it is most likely that Richard Radulphi was responsible for the publicity campaign. As a result Fitzralph succeeded in making the purgatory much more attractive for pilgrims from all over Europe than had previously been the case.
The attack upon the mendicants
Fitzralph's attitude to the mendicant friars, whom he had respected in an academic milieu, altered radically when he became archbishop of Armagh. Indeed, they became his principal enemy when he began to identify the causes of tension between the two nations in his archdiocese with the ubiquitous presence of the friars in pulpit and confessional, and to accuse them of leniency towards penitents guilty of crimes of violence against the other nation. He emphasized the offices of bishop and parish priest, and saw confession to a friar as disruption of traditional parochial structures and authority. Possibly because of the relative poverty of the archdiocese of Armagh, Fitzralph was concerned about the extent to which the friars' right to hear confessions, preach, and bury the dead in their churches and cemeteries deprived the parochial clergy of revenue. This preoccupation led to a critical examination of the biblical and legal foundationsand consequent justificationof the friars' professed way of life: Fitzralph denied that Christ and the apostles had practised voluntary mendicancy. Furthermore he began to call into question the authority of the papacy to grant the mendicant orders extensive privileges. The first clear statement of Fitzralph's anti-mendicant views are to be found in a Proposicio
preached at the papal curia on 5 July 1350 in the presence of Clement VI, nine months after his last invitation to preach before a mendicant community, in the Franciscan church in Avignon on the feast of St Francis (4 October) 1349.
At the heart of the matter were two separate but related issues, the first of which was theological, concerning the poverty practised by Christ and the apostles, which was the basis of the friars', and most particularly of the Franciscans', existence. The second issue was juridical and concerned the friars' apostolic activity, whereby they engaged in pastoral work outside the parochial structure and were exempted from episcopal jurisdiction. Initially Fitzralph was more concerned about the second problem, with which he had been confronted at a practical level in Ireland. But he soon came to realize that the nature of property, and the question of whether its use could be divorced from lordship, were central to the controversy over Franciscan poverty.
After his first attack in 1350, Fitzralph further developed his arguments on the question of poverty, and published them in his treatise in dialogue form, De pauperie Salvatoris
. His contribution to the mendicant debate in the 1350s was novel in that he employed as the basis of his argument a theory of dominion and grace, whereby lordship, ownership, and jurisdiction, and the valid exercise of authority, were all founded on God's grace to the individual soul. As the logical corollary to this view, he argues that those who abuse their rights and privileges, and thus commit serious sin, deserve to be deprived of these prerogatives. During the long gestation of De pauperie Salvatoris
Fitzralph shifted his position more than once, so that his arguments are not coherent or consistent. On the one hand he accuses the friars of not adhering to the strict rule of St Francis concerning absolute poverty: by accepting property, privileges, and dominion they have sinned grievously and so forfeited their rights within the church. On the other hand, Fitzralph also argues against the scriptural justification for Christ's mendicancy. In this work, and in the London sermons of 13567, it is clear that the Franciscans are his principal target, but the arguments apply to all four mendicant orders.
Fitzralph's return to London in the summer of 1356, with the nearly complete text of De pauperie Salvatoris
in his baggage, was determined by routine business at the king's court. However, the circulation of the work in Oxford and London, and the consequent intensification of the debate about the poverty of Christ, ensured that the controversy would keep him occupied for the rest of his life. The dispute raged between mendicant theologians and secular clergy, and Fitzralph's friend, the dean of St Paul's Cathedral, Richard Kilvington (d
. 1361), offered the archbishop the opportunity to defend his position at Paul's Cross, in the most prominent pulpit in London. Although Fitzralph referred in his Proposicio
, preached before Innocent VI and the assembled papal court on 8 November 1357, to seven or eight sermons preached in English in London during the winter and spring of 13567 on the mendicant question, only four survive. These anti-mendicant sermons represent the substance of his arguments subsequently laid before the papal curia in his Proposicio
: they provoked the opposition of all four mendicant orders, and particularly that of the Franciscans. The friars met at the London Greyfriars on 7 March 1357 to organize the resistance to Fitzralph, and drew up an Appellacio
, listing twenty-one alleged errors which they had found in the archbishop's public utterances. On 10 March this was delivered to Fitzralph's lodgings by the prior of the London Augustinians, John Arderne. Two days later Fitzralph replied in a final vernacular sermon at Paul's Cross, which has survived as a vigorous piece of anti-mendicant polemic with an independent circulation.
The friars could rely on royal support. Edward III forbade the archbishop to leave the country without royal permission, and ordered a strict watch on all channel ports, with theunsuccessfulintention of preventing Fitzralph's departure for Avignon to pursue his campaign against the friars there. In an autobiographical prayer, composed after 1357 and appended to the Summa de quaestionibus Armenorum
, in which he reflects on his previous life and work, Fitzralph gives thanks for deliverance from physical danger in terms which seem to apply to his flight from England to Avignon.
The legal proceedings between Fitzralph and the four mendicant orders were formally opened by the archbishop on 8 November 1357 with the aforementioned Proposicio
, which circulated widely and is generally known as the Defensio curatorum
. It received additional circulation through an excellent Middle English translation by John Trevisa (c
.1380). The proceedings were presided over by four cardinals, of whom three drew revenues from English benefices, and two were members of endowed monastic orders with little enthusiasm for the friars. The case generated an enormous amount ofpartly tedious and repetitivedocumentation, and Fitzralph continued his campaign against the friars in sermons preached in the private chapels of the pope and the vice-chancellor. He also completed the eighth book of De pauperie Salvatoris
, in which he tried to clarify his position and counter some of the objections raised. He apparently no longer had the original draft of the work which he had taken to London in 1356. This came into the possession of a Bohemian admirer of Fitzralph, Adalbert of Ranconis, who proudly announced in 1365 that because of his opposition to the friars in Paris he had acquired the title of Secundus Armachanus. Adalbert brought his manuscript back to Prague, from where it found its way into the library of the imperial court in Vienna (now Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, CVP 1430).
Death and legacy
Interim statements by the pope, such as the bull Gravem dilectorum
issued to the English hierarchy on 1 October 1358, attempted to calm the situation without prejudicing the outcome of the case. Statutes enacted at a synod of the diocese of Avignon on 16 October 1359 reaffirmed parochial authority in pastoral matters, in apparent agreement with Fitzralph's demands. However, the friars had adequate financial resources for legal proceedings, but contemporary English sources indicate that money for Fitzralph's cause was sought from monastic and higher secular clergy with only modest success. He could count on moral support from some bishops, but few shared his obsession. By the time of Fitzralph's death, in Avignon, on either 16 or 20 November 1360, no verdict had been reached. The following year his principal English supporter, Richard Kilvington, the leader of the Franciscan opposition, Roger Conway, and two members of the tribunal also died, whereupon the matter quietly lapsed into oblivion.
After his death Fitzralph's papers were obviously collected and circulated by a friend, and the most likely candidate for this role is Richard Kilvington. About ten years after his death Fitzralph's bones were brought home by Stephen Wall, bishop of Meath, and interred in the church of St Nicholas in Dundalk. Here the local cult of St Richard of Dundalk led to a call for his canonization, which was supported by several Irish bishops. In order to examine the case a commission was appointed at the papal curia, one of whose members was Cardinal Perino Tomacelli, who as Pope Boniface IX (r
. 13891404) continued to favour the cause. He had a copy of the Summa de quaestionibus Armenorum
made in Perugia in 1393 for the papal library (now MS Vat. lat. 1033). Another copy of the work (now Kraków, Biblioteka Jagiellonska, Cod. 1599), made in Paris in 1375 and subsequently in the possession of the Silesian scholar Laurentius of Ratibor, notes in an early fifteenth-century marginal comment that the work had been declared heretical and burnt at the papal curia in the time of Boniface IX. The examination of Fitzralph's writings had exposed similarities with the teachings of John Wyclif in some areas, notably dominion, and his approach to exegesis. Mendicant polemicists could point to Armachanus as the source of Wycliffite heresy, and an anonymous preacherpossibly a Franciscanat the Council of Constance (141418) claimed the Bohemian reformer, Jan Hus, as a disciple of Richard Fitzralph and John Wyclif! Laudatory references to Fitzralph as noster sanctus Armachanus
among the followers of Wyclif, together with constant reminders in the testimony given at Lollard trials that the archbishop of Armagh's formulae upon sensitive issues had fallen on fruitful ground, did not help Fitzralph's posthumous reputation at the curia. The one recognition of sanctity negated the other, and alike as Lollard saint, and as candidate for (Roman) canonization, St Richard of Dundalk fell firmly between both stools.
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CCC Cam., MSS 74, 156, 180
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, MS 64
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