Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom

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John Dryden, the first Poet Laureate

The British Poet Laureate is an honorary position appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom on the advice of the Prime Minister. The role does not entail any specific duties, but there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions. The origins of the laureateship date back to 1616 when a pension was provided to Ben Jonson, but the first official holder of the position was John Dryden, appointed in 1668 by Charles II. The holder of the position as at 2015 is Carol Ann Duffy, who was appointed in May 2009 on a fixed ten-year term. Three poets, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship.[1]


The origins of the poet laureateship date back to 1616 when James I granted a pension to the writer Ben Jonson.[2] Although there were subsequent court poets it was not until 1668, and the appointment of John Dryden by Charles II, that the post was made an established royal office within the purview of the royal household.[3][4] Dryden, who had been appointed following the success of his 1667 poem Annus Mirabilis, was dismissed from office in 1689 following the accession of the protestant William III and Mary II to the throne. Dryden, a Catholic convert, refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the new monarchs and he was dismissed from the laureateship—the only holder to have been removed from office.[5][6]

Dryden's successor, Thomas Shadwell, was appointed for life. He introduced the custom of producing poems for the new year and the monarch's birthday, which became one of the key duties of the position.[7] After the appointment of William Wordsworth in 1843 the duties settled into an expectation, not requirement, for major court and national occasions. As at 2015 the position is an honorary one, and the office holder is left to decide on which occasions they will produce poetry.[3][1] Following Dryden's dismissal from the post, the laureateship was held for life by all successors until Andrew Motion was appointed in 1999 for a fixed term of ten years; his successor, Carol Ann Duffy, was also appointed on the same fixed term.[8] Duffy is the first female poet to hold the role, and the first Scot.[7][9]

After Shadwell's selection the laureate was appointed by the Lord Chamberlain, on the monarch's instructions. Since 1790, and the appointment of Henry James Pye, the Prime Minister has recommended the candidate to appoint.[1] For the appointment of Duffy the Department for Culture, Media and Sport undertook a consultation of academics and literary organisations to draw up a short list of recommendations which they presented to the Prime Minister. He, in conjunction with the Cabinet Office then submitted the name to the Queen for approval.[8]

Dryden's salary for the laureateship was £200 per year. In 1630 Charles I added an annual "butt of Canary wine",[a] although this was later discontinued in place of the monetary equivalent.[7] When John Betjeman was appointed, he rekindled the tradition, and received 720 bottles of sherry; as at 2015 this practice continues.[11] Since Motion's appointment the Department of Culture provided an annual honorarium of £5,750; Motion also received an additional £19,000 for his work in education. With Duffy's appointment, the salary returned to £5,750 and the barrel of sherry.[12]

Poets laureate[edit]

Poet laureate[1] Portrait Birth and death Dates of laureateship Appointed by
John Dryden John Dryden portrait.jpg 1631–1700 1668–88 Charles II
Thomas Shadwell ShadwellT.jpg c. 1640–1692 1689–92 William III and Mary II
Nahum Tate Ntate.jpg 1652–1715 1692–1715 William III and Mary II
Nicholas Rowe Nicholas Rowe from NPG.jpg 1674–1718 1715–18 George I
Laurence Eusden Eusden.JPG 1688–1730 1718–30 George I
Colley Cibber Colley Cibber.jpg 1671–1757 1730–57 George II
William Whitehead Whitehead.jpg 1715–1785 1757–85[b] George II
Thomas Warton Thomaswarton.jpg 1728–1790 1785–90 George III
Henry James Pye Henry James Pye by Samuel James Arnold.jpg 1745–1813 1790–1813 George III
Robert Southey Robert Southey - Project Gutenberg eText 13619.jpg 1774–1843 1813–43[c] George III
William Wordsworth William Wordsworth - Project Gutenberg eText 12933.jpg 1770–1850 1843–50 Queen Victoria
Alfred, Lord Tennyson Alfred Tennyson..jpg 1809–1892 1850–92[d] Queen Victoria
Alfred Austin Alfredaustin.jpg 1835–1913 1896–1913 Queen Victoria
Robert Bridges Robert Bridges.jpg 1844–1930 1913–30 George V
John Masefield John Masefield.jpg 1878–1967 1930–67 George V
Cecil Day-Lewis C. Day-Lewis - Blue plaque.jpg 1904–1972 1968–72 Elizabeth II
John Betjeman John Betjeman statue.jpg 1906–1984 1972–84 Elizabeth II
Ted Hughes Ted-Hughes-March1993.jpg 1930–1998 1984–98 Elizabeth II
Andrew Motion Andrew Motion, April 2009.jpg 1952– 1999–2009 Elizabeth II
Carol Ann Duffy Carol Ann Duffy at Humber Mouth 2009 (3646825708).jpg 1955– 2009– Elizabeth II

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ A butt of wine measured 126 gallons (572.80 litres).[10]
  2. ^ On the refusal of Thomas Gray.[13]
  3. ^ On the refusal of Walter Scott.[14]
  4. ^ On the refusal of Samuel Rogers.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d "Poets laureate (1668–2011)". Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 August 2015.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ "List of poets laureate of Britain". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Poet Laureate". The British Monarchy. The Royal Household. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  4. ^ Laurie & Motion 1999, p. 17.
  5. ^ Laurie & Motion 1999, pp. 17–18.
  6. ^ Hammond, Paul (2009). "Dryden, John (1631–1700)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press). doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8108. Retrieved 2 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  7. ^ a b c "Poets Laureate". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "Carol Ann Duffy was officially declared as Britain's first female Poet Laureate on May 1st 2009". The Poetry Society. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  9. ^ "Duffy reacts to new Laureate post". BBC. 1 May 2009. 
  10. ^ Unwin 2005, p. 364.
  11. ^ Brown, Mark (6 August 2014). "Poems, palaces and butts of sherry: exhibition brings poets laureate to life". The Guardian (London). 
  12. ^ Lea, Richard. "Irish literature gets €150,000 boost with laureate award". The Guardian (London). 
  13. ^ Scott, Rosemary (2004). "Whitehead, William (bap. 1715, d. 1785)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press). doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29294. Retrieved 2 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  14. ^ Hewitt, David (2008). "Scott, Sir Walter (1771–1832)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press). doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24928. Retrieved 2 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  15. ^ Ricks, Christopher (2006). "Tennyson, Alfred, first Baron Tennyson (1809–1892)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press). doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27137. Retrieved 2 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)


  • Laurie, Hilary; Motion, Andrew (1999). Verses of the Poets Laureate: From John Dryden to Andrew Motion. London: Orion. ISBN 978-0-7528-1859-7. 

See also[edit]