He was born near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, the son of Sir Richard Aungervyle, who was descended from one of William the Conqueror's men. Aungervyle settled in Leicestershire, and the family came into possession of the manor of Willoughby. He was educated by John de Willoughby, and after leaving the grammar school was sent to the University of Oxford, where he studied philosophy and theology. He is said to have become a Benedictine monk. He was made tutor to the future King Edward III), and, according to Thomas Frognall Dibdin, inspired the prince with his own love of books.
Somehow he became involved in the intrigues preceding the deposition of King Edward II, and supplied Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, in Paris with money in 1325 from the revenues of Brienne, of which province he was treasurer. For some time he had to hide in Paris from the officers sent by Edward II to apprehend him. On the accession of Edward III his services were rewarded by rapid promotion. He was cofferer to the king, treasurer of the wardrobe and afterwards clerk of the privy seal. The king repeatedly recommended him the pope, and twice sent him, in 1330 and 1333, as ambassador to the papal court in exile at Avignon. On the first of these visits he met a fellow bibliophile, Petrarch, who records his impression of Aungerville as "not ignorant of literature and from his youth up curious beyond belief of hidden things." Petrarch asked him for information about Thule, but Aungerville, who promised to reply when he was back at home among his books, never responded to repeated enquiries. Pope John XXII, made him his principal chaplain, and presented him with a rochet in earnest of the next vacant bishopric in England.
During his absence from England he was made (1333) dean of rolls. In September of the same year, he was made Bishop of Durham by the king, overruling the choice of the monks, who had elected and actually installed their sub-prior, Robert de Graynes. In February 1334 Aungerville was made lord treasurer, an appointment he exchanged later in year for that of lord chancellor. He resigned the following year, and, after making arrangements for the protection of his northern diocese from an expected attack by the Scots, he proceeded in July 1336 to France to attempt a settlement of the claims in dispute between Edward and the French king. In the next year he served on three commissions for the defence of the northern counties. In June 1338 he was once again sent abroad on a peace mission, but within a month was waylaid by the approaching campaign.
Aungerville travelled to Coblenz and met Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor, and in the next year was sent to England to raise money. This seems to have been his last visit to the continent. In 1340 and 1342 he again tried to negotiate peace with the Scots, but afterwards left public politics to care for his diocese and accumulate a library. He sent far and wide in search of manuscripts, rescuing many volumes from the charge of ignorant and neglectful monks. He may sometimes have brought undue pressure to bear on the owners, for it is recorded that an abbot of St Albans bribed him with four valuable books, and that Aungerville, who procured certain coveted privileges for the monastery, bought from him thirty-two other books for fifty pieces of silver, far less than their normal price. The record of his passion for books, his Philobiblon, was completed on his fifty-eighth birthday, 24 January 1345.
He gives an account of the wearied efforts made by himself and his agents to collect books. He records his intention of founding a hall at Oxford, and in connexion with it a library in which his books were to form the nucleus. He even details the dates to be observed for the lending and care of the books, and had already taken the preliminary steps for the foundation. The bishop died, however, in great poverty, and it seems likely that his collection was dispersed immediately after his death. Of it, the traditional account is that the books were sent to the to Durham Benedictines at Oxford, and that on the dissolution a the foundation by Henry VIII they were divided between Duke Humphrey of Gloucester's library, Balliol College, Oxford, and George Owen. Only two of the volumes are known to be do existence; one is a copy of John of Salisbury's works in the British Museum, and the other some theological treatises by Anselm and others in the Bodleian.
The chief authority for the bishop's life is William de Chambre, printed in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, 1691, and in Historiae conelmensis scriptores tres, Surtees Soc. 1839), who describes him as an amiable and excellent man, charitable in his diocese, and the liberal patron of many learned men, among these being Thomas Bradwardine, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Fitzralph, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, the enemy of the mendicant orders, Walter Burley, who translated Aristotle, John Mauduit the astronomer, Robert Holkot and Richard de Kilvington. John Bale and Pits I mention other works of his, Epistolae Familiares and Orationes ad Principes. The opening words of the Philobiblon and the Epistolae as given by Bale represent those of the Philobiblon and its prologue, of that he apparently made two books out of one treatise. It is possible that the Orationes may represent a letter book of Richard de Bury's, entitled Liber Epistolaris quondam dominiis cardi de Bury, Episcopi Dunelmensis, now in the possession of Lord Harlech.
This manuscript, the contents of which are fully catalogued in the Fourth Report (1874) of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (Appendix, pp. 379-397), contains numerous letters from various popes, from the king, a correspondence dealing with the affairs of the university of Oxford, another with the province of Gascony, beside some harangues and letters evidently meant as models to be used on various occasions. It has often been asserted that the Philobiblon itself was not written by Richard de Bury at all, but by Robert Holkot. This assertion is supported by the fact that in seven of the extant manuscripts of Philobiblon it is ascribed to Holkote in an introductory page, in these or slightly varying terms: Incipit prologus in re philobiblon ricardi dunelmensis episcopi que libri composuit ag. The Paris manuscript has simply Philobiblon olchoti anglici, and does not contain the usual concluding note of the date when the book was completed by Richard. As a great part of the charm of book lies in the unconscious record of the collector's own character, the establishment of Holkot's authorship would materially alter its value. A notice of Richard de Bury by his contemporary Adam Murimuth (Continuatio Chronicarum, Rolls series, 1889, p. 171) gives a less favourable account of him than does William de Chambre, asserting that he was only moderately learned, but desired to be regarded as a great scholar.