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. On the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who held the post between November 1850 and October 1892, there was a break of four years as a mark of respect; Tennyson's laureate poems "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" were particularly cherished by the Victorian public. Three poets, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship.[1] The holder of the position as at 2016 is Carol Ann Duffy, who was appointed in May 2009 on a fixed ten-year term.

Background[edit]

The origins of the poet laureateship date back to 1616 when James I of England 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 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 in 1689 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. Alfred, Lord Tennyson held the post between November 1850 and October 1892. According to Andrew Motion and Hilary Laurie, Tennyson "gave the poet laureateship new status and significance" with works such as "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade". On his death the post was left vacant as a mark of respect; a new laureate was not appointed until four years later, with the appointment of Alfred Austin in January 1896.[8] As at 2015 the position is an honorary one, and the office holder is left to decide on which occasions they will produce poetry.[1][3] Following Dryden's dismissal from the post, the laureateship was held for life by all successors until 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.[9] Duffy is the first female poet to hold the role, and the first Scot.[7][10]

After Shadwell's selection the laureate was appointed by the Lord Chamberlain, on the monarch's instructions. Since the appointment of Henry James Pye in 1790, the Prime Minister has recommended which candidate to appoint.[1] For the appointment of Duffy the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) 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.[9]

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.[12] Since Motion's appointment the DCMS 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.[13]

Poets laureate[edit]

Poet laureate[1][2] Portrait Birth and death Dates of laureateship Appointed by Length of
tenure (years)
Ref.
John Dryden John Dryden portrait.jpg 1631–1700 13 April 1668 – January 1688 Charles II 20 [14][15]
Thomas Shadwell ShadwellT.jpg c. 1640–1692 9 March 1689 – 19 or 20 November 1692 William III and Mary II 3 [16][17]
Nahum Tate Ntate.jpg 1652–1715 23 December 1692 – 30 July 1715 William III and Mary II 23 [18][19]
Nicholas Rowe Nicholas Rowe from NPG.jpg 1674–1718 1 August 1715 – 6 December 1718 George I 3 [20][21]
Laurence Eusden Eusden.JPG 1688–1730 10 December 1718 – 27 September 1730 George I 12 [20][22]
Colley Cibber Colley Cibber.jpg 1671–1757 3 December 1730 – 12 December 1757 George II 27 [20][23]
William Whitehead Whitehead.jpg 1715–1785 19 December 1757[b] – 14 April 1785 George II 27 [20][24]
Thomas Warton Thomaswarton.jpg 1728–1790 20 April 1785 – 21 May 1790 George III 5 [25][26]
Henry James Pye Henry James Pye by Samuel James Arnold.jpg 1745–1813 28 July 1790 – 11 August 1813 George III 23 [27]
Robert Southey Robert Southey - Project Gutenberg eText 13619.jpg 1774–1843 12 August 1813[c] – 21 March 1843 George III 30 [20][29]
William Wordsworth William Wordsworth - Project Gutenberg eText 12933.jpg 1770–1850 6 April 1843 – 23 April 1850 Victoria 7 [30][31]
Alfred, Lord Tennyson Alfred Tennyson..jpg 1809–1892 19 November 1850[d] – 6 October 1892 Victoria 42 [30][32]
Alfred Austin Alfredaustin.jpg 1835–1913 1 January 1896 – 2 June 1913 Victoria 17 [32][33]
Robert Bridges Robert Bridges.jpg 1844–1930 25 July 1913 – 21 April 1930 George V 17 [34][35]
John Masefield John Masefield.jpg 1878–1967 9 May 1930 – 12 May 1967 George V 37 [36][37]
Cecil Day-Lewis C. Day-Lewis - Blue plaque.jpg 1904–1972 2 January 1968 – 22 May 1972 Elizabeth II 4 [38][39]
John Betjeman John Betjeman statue.jpg 1906–1984 20 October 1972 – 19 May 1984 Elizabeth II 12 [40][41]
Ted Hughes 1930–1998 28 December 1984 – 28 October 1998 Elizabeth II 14 [42][43]
Andrew Motion Andrew Motion, April 2009.jpg 1952– 19 May 1999 – May 2009 Elizabeth II 10 [9][44]
Carol Ann Duffy Carol Ann Duffy at Humber Mouth 2009 (3646825708).jpg 1955– 1 May 2009 Elizabeth II [9]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A butt of wine measured 126 gallons (572.80 litres).[11]
  2. ^ On the refusal of Thomas Gray.[24]
  3. ^ On the refusal of Walter Scott.[28]
  4. ^ On the refusal of Samuel Rogers.[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Poets laureate (1668–2011)". Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 August 2015.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b "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. ^ Laurie & Motion 1999, pp. 10–11, 97–98.
  9. ^ a b c d "Carol Ann Duffy was officially declared as Britain's first female Poet Laureate on May 1st 2009". The Poetry Society. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "Duffy reacts to new Laureate post". BBC. 1 May 2009. 
  11. ^ Unwin 2005, p. 364.
  12. ^ Brown, Mark (6 August 2014). "Poems, palaces and butts of sherry: exhibition brings poets laureate to life". The Guardian. London. 
  13. ^ Lea, Richard. "Irish literature gets €150,000 boost with laureate award". The Guardian. London. 
  14. ^ Nichol Smith 1950, p. 11.
  15. ^ Hammond & Hopkins 2014, p. xiv.
  16. ^ Hammond & Hopkins 2014, p. 333.
  17. ^ Bennett, Kate (2009). "Shadwell, Thomas (c.1640–1692)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/25195. Retrieved 2 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  18. ^ Dryden & Malone 1800, p. 206.
  19. ^ Hopkins, David (2008). "Tate, Nahum (c.1652–1715)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26986. Retrieved 2 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  20. ^ a b c d e Bucholz, R.O. "The Artistic Establishment: Poet Laureate 1660–1837, in Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660–1837". British History Online. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  21. ^ Sherbo, Arthur (2006). "Nicholas Rowe (1674–1718)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24203. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  22. ^ Sambrook, James (2004). "Laurence Eusden (1688–1730)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8934. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  23. ^ Salmon, Eric (2012). "Cibber, Colley (1671–1757)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5416. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  24. ^ a b 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)
  25. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 12642. p. 205. 26 April 1785.
  26. ^ Reid, Hugh (2006). "Warton, Thomas (1728–1790)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/28799. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  27. ^ Sambrook, James (2008). "Henry James Pye (1745–1813)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22918. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  28. ^ 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)
  29. ^ Carnall, Geoffrey (2011). "Robert Southey (1774–1843)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26056. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  30. ^ a b Hamilton, Walter (1880). "The Origin of the Office of Poet Laureate". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 8: 20–35. doi:10.2307/3677823. 
  31. ^ Gill, Stephen (2010). "William Wordsworth (1770–1850)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29973. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  32. ^ a b c 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)
  33. ^ Scheuerle, William H. (2006). "Alfred Austin (1835–1913)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30503. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  34. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28740. p. 5321. 25 July 1913.
  35. ^ Phillips, Catherine (2004). "Robert Seymour Bridges (1844–1930)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32066. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  36. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33604. p. 2865. 9 May 1930.
  37. ^ Gervais, David (2013). "John Edward Masefield (1878–1967)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32066. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  38. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 44494. p. 89. 2 January 1968.
  39. ^ Day-Lewis, Sean (2013). "Cecil Day-Lewis (1904–1972)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31014. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  40. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 45807. p. 12397. 20 October 1972.
  41. ^ Amis, Amis (2010). "Sir John Betjeman (1906–1984)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30815. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  42. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49967. p. 17431. 28 December 1984.
  43. ^ Sagar, Keith (2013). "Edward James Hughes (1930–1998)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/71121. Retrieved 7 September 2015.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  44. ^ "Poetry in Motion". BBC. 19 May 1999. 

Sources[edit]

See also[edit]