Pickering, William, Sir (1516 -1575)
Sir William Pickering of Oswaldkirk in the North Riding of Yorkshire was the son of Sir William Pickering (d. 1542), Knight Marshal to Henry VIII, to whom were granted the lands of the Abbey of Vale Crucis at the dissolution of the monasteries. He was educated at Cambridge. In 1539 he was a Gentleman in Waiting to Henry VIII and is said to have served in the war at Calais. He was knighted at the coronation of Edward VI, and sent on a special embassy to France in 1551. Later that year he returned to Paris as a permanent Ambassador, being recalled a month after Mary's accession in 1553. Involved in plots against the Spanish marriage, he found it prudent to travel in Italy and Germany, returning in 1555. Elizabeth employed him as her ambassador to the Netherlands and Germany in 1558 1559, and he was even mentioned as a possible husband for the Queen. His particular interest seems to have been modern languages, particularly Italian. By far the largest number of his surviving books is in that language. Two of his books are known to have mottoes, one of which, a Suetonius also has notes, and a third has an ownership inscription, all in Italian. For his bookstamps he chose a Spanish motto, and he had some books in that language, and in French, but is not known to have possessed any in English. For our knowledge of Pickering's library we are indebted largely to the researches of Colonel W. E. Moss, who systematically collected notes on books from his library in the course of his work on Thomas Wotton, and bequeathed them, with his other notes on bookbinding, to the Bodleian Library. Not all his books had armorial bindings. I. G. Philip in his article in the Book Collector mentions four books bearing Pickering's signature and a date but not the armorial stamps. The dates of the four are 1545, 1565, 1566 and 1572, one of which, a copy of Hubert Golzius. Fasti magistratum et triumphorum (Bruges, 1566), was in an ordinary calf binding with the signature “W. Pykeringe 1572” on the titlepage. A second is a copy of Claudio Corte. Il cavallarizzo (Venice, 1562) in a very elaborate binding, inscribed on the titlepage “Wm Pykeringe 1565 / Il dono del illustrissimo Sigor Conte de lecestre”. In addition two volumes sold by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon at Sotheby's 8 April 1919 are identified convincingly by Colonel Moss as being from Pickering's library, although they probably do not bear his arms. These are Pietro Aretino. Le lettre (Venice, 1539 (lot 286) and Il Petrarca con l'espositione di G. A. Gesualdo (Venice, 1553) (lot 300). Both are included in lots with books which bear the armorial stamp, and are likely titles and of the right date, characteristics shared by none of the other books in the sale which are not recorded as having the arms. Of the books with the armorial stamps several have an ornamental design on the sides in the form of an Italianate form of shield made with a single fillet of gold. It is quite distinctive and I have not met with anything similar elsewhere. Another book from his library, Joannes Tilius. Chronicon de Regibus Francorum (Paris, 1551), first noticed by Edward Gordon Duff, has Pickering’s arms but is made up from separate tools. It is in the Bodleian Library (Tanner 695), and has a number of inscriptions of the Poyntz family. Some genealogical notes among the Moss papers, though not in his hand, establish the identity and relationships of the individuals concerned most convincingly, and strongly suggest that this volume was an early gift from his collection, possibly by Pickering's son in law Edward Wotton.
The descent of Pickering's library has been the subject of some discussion. By his will dated 31 December 1574 his library was left to whomsoever married his illegitimate daughter Hester who meanwhile was to be the ward of his friend Thomas Wotton. She married Thomas's son Edward, afterwards Lord Wotton of Marley, and so the Pickering library came to share the fate of the celebrated Wotton library. Some books passed through the female line to the Stanhope family and were eventually sold by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon at Sotheby's 8 April 1919. Other volumes have come down through other descendants. There were books from his library in the Old Royal Library, one in Sotheby's sale of 11 November 1913, and at least two books, the Corte and the Tilius have very early ownership inscriptions showing that they had left the possession of the Wotton family.
Most of the surviving books have the armorial stamps in a strangely mutilated state, in which the hurts [roundels] have been scratched from the chevron and the resulting gaps have been filled with liquid gold. Mr Philip suggests that Pickering altered the stamps when he inherited the representation of the main line of his family. This is heraldically unsound as without the hurts the arms cease to be those of any family of the name. Other Pickerings have ogresses or annulets instead of hurts, but Gules a chevron between three fleurs de lys or represent the arms of Montgomery. Apparently Pickering used these latter arms in his will and on his monument in St Helen's Bishopgate. It is possible then, though not proven, that he was offended by bearing apparently differenced arms and either altered them without authority, or obtained a modified grant by influence. If this is so the Tilius and the two books in the British Library were already presumably no longer in his possession.