The Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, also referred to as the (English or British) Poet Laureate, is the poet laureate appointed by the United Kingdom Government. Originally, laureates were of the Kingdom of England (to 1707), then of the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1801), then of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1801-1922); and since 1922 of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


Medieval English kings included versifiers and minstrels in their retinues, and some appointed a Versificator Regis (Versifier to the King).

According to Wharton, Henry I paid 10 shillings a year to a Versificator Regis. Geoffrey Chaucer 1340-1400 was called Poet Laureate, being granted in 1389 an annual allowance of wine. Richard Coeur de Lion had a versificator Regis]] (King's Poet), Gulielmus Peregrinus. and Henry III had a versificator (Master Henry).

A royal degree in rhetoric, "poet laureate" was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognised skill in areas of rhetoric, grammar and language. This might be the academic equivalent of a modern day doctorate of poetry.

John Skelton studied at Oxford University in the early 1480s, and was advanced to the degree of poet laureate in 1488. The title of laureate was also conferred on him by the University of Louvain in 1492, and by Cambridge University in 1492-3. He soon became famous for rhetoric, satire and translations. In 1488 Skelton joined the court of Henry VII, tutored Henry VIII and was the official royal poet for most of the next 40 years. He was held in high esteem: "But I pray mayster John Skelton, late created poete laureate in the unyversite of Oxenforde, to oversee and correct this sayd booke" — Caxton in the preface to The Boke of Eneydos compyled by Vargyle 1490.

In the 15th century, John Kay, also a "versifier", described himself as Edward IV's "humble poet laureate." Edmund Spenser was granted a pension by Elizabeth I.

W. Hamilton classes Chaucer, Gower, Kay, Bernard André, Skelton, Robert Whittington, Richard Edwards, Spenser, and Samuel Daniel as "volunteer Laureates".

From the more general use of the term "poet laureate" arose its restriction in England to an official office of Poet Laureate, the poet attached to the royal household. James I essentially created the position as it is known today for Ben Jonson in 1617, although Jonson's appointment does not seem to have been formally made.

The title of poet laureate was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670, two years after Davenant's death. Dryden was removed from the post in 1688 because he refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the new king William III.

The post then became a regular institution; Dryden's successor Shadwell originated annual birthday and New Year odes. The poet laureate became traditionally responsible for writing occasional verse to commemorate occasions both personal, such as the monarch's birthday and royal births and marriages, and public, such as coronations and military victories. His activity in this respect has varied, according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death.

The office fell into some contempt before Southey, but took on a new lustre from his personal distinction and that of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Wordsworth stipulated, before accepting the honour, that no formal effusions from him should be considered a necessity; but Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class.

On Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that no possible successor was acceptable, William Morris and Swinburne being hardly suitable as court poets. Eventually, however, the undesirability of breaking with tradition for temporary reasons, and thus severing the one official link between literature and the state, prevailed over the protests against allowing anyone of inferior genius to follow Tennyson. It may be noted that abolition had been similarly advocated when Warton and Wordsworth died. Edward Gibbon had condemned the position's artificial approach to poetry:

From Augustus to Louis, the muse has too often been false and venal: but I much doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who in every reign, and at all events, is bound to furnish twice a year a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence, of the sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince is a man of virtue and the poet a man of genius.
— Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Chapter LXX (footnote)

The post of Poet Laureate is traditionally rewarded with "a butt of sack", which in the modern day is approximately equivalent to 477 litres (105 gallons) of sherry.[1] The Poet Laureate also receives an annual honorarium, currently set at GB£5,750 (US$9,250).[2] The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine". Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain's department, and £27 from the Lord Steward's "in lieu of the butt of sack".

Starting with Andrew Motion in 1999, the appointment is now made for a fixed term of 10 years.[2]

Carol Ann Duffy, designated in May 2009 official poet of the United Kingdom, is the first "royal bard" in the post's three centuries of existence to be a woman, and also the first to be openly bisexual.[3]

Office holdersEdit

Medieval EnglandEdit

Under the title versificator regis:

Tudor EnglandEdit

Poet Laureate Portrait Birth Alma mater Appointed Notable poetry Death
Bernard André 1450
Toulouse, France
by Henry VII 1522
John Skelton c. 1460
possibly Diss, Norfolk
University of Cambridge 1513/1514
by Henry VIII
"Speke, Parrot"
"The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe"
21 June 1529
Edmund Spenser105px c. 1552
Pembroke College, University of Cambridge by Elizabeth I "Epithalamium"
"The Shepheardes Calender"
"The Faerie Queene"
13 January 1599

1599 to presentEdit

Each "Appointed" year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article.

Poet Laureate Portrait Birth Alma mater Appointed Notable poetry Death
Samuel Daniel 90px 1562
Near Taunton, Somerset
Magdalen Hall, Oxford University 1599
by Elizabeth I
"The Complaint of Rosamond"
Epistles to Distinguished Persons
14 October 1619
Beckington, Somerset
Ben Jonson Benjamin Jonson by Abraham van Blyenberch c. 11 June 1572
Westminster, London
Westminster School
(Did not attend university)
by James I
"On My First Son"
"To Penshurst"
"To Celia"
6 August 1637
Westminster, London
William Davenant
(also D'Avenant)
90px late February, 1606
Lincoln College, Oxford University
(Did not graduate)
by Charles I
"A Discourse upon Gondibert, an heroick poem"
"A Panegyric to his Excellency the Lord General Monck"
"Poem, Upon His Sacred Majesties Most Happy Return to His Dominions"
7 April 1668
John Dryden John Dryden portrait 9 August 1631
Aldwincle, Northamptonshire
Trinity College, University of Cambridge 1668
by Charles II
Dismissed by William III and Mary II in 1688
"Astraea Redux"
"Annus Mirabilis"
"Absalom and Achitophel"
12 May 1700
Thomas Shadwell 80px c. 1642
Stanton Hall, Norfolk
Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge 1689
by William III and Mary II
"Dear Pretty Youth"
"Love in their little veins inspires"
"Nymphs and Shepherds"
19 November 1692
Chelsea, London
Nahum Tate Ntate 1652
Dublin, Ireland
Trinity College, Dublin 1692
by William III and Mary II
"Panacea, a poem on Tea" 30 July 1715
Southwark, London
Nicholas Rowe Nicholas Rowe from NPG 20 June 1674
Little Barford, Bedfordshire
Middle Temple 1715
by George I
"A Poem upon the Late Glorious Successes of Her Majesty's Arms"
Poems on Several Occasions
"Ode for the New Year MDCCXVI"
6 December 1718
Laurence Eusden 105px 6 September 1688
Spofforth, North Yorkshire
Trinity College, University of Cambridge 1718
by George I
"The Origin Of The Knights Of The Bath" 27 September 1730
Coningsby, Lincolnshire
Colley Cibber 90px 11 June 1671
No formal education 1730
by George II
12 November 1757
William Whitehead 105px early February, 1715
Clare College, University of Cambridge 1757
by George II
(on the refusal of Thomas Gray)
"On Ridicule"
"The Enthusiast"
"The Je Ne Scai Quoi"
14 April 1785
Thomas Warton Thomaswarton 9 January 1728
Basingstoke, Hampshire
Trinity College, Oxford University 1785
by George III
(on the refusal of William Mason)
"The Triumph of Isis"
"To the River Lodon"
21 May 1790
Henry James Pye Henry James Pye by Samuel James Arnold 20 February 1745
Magdalen College, Oxford University 1790
by George III
Poems on Various Subjects
11 August 1813
Pinner, Middlesex
Robert Southey 105px 12 August 1774
Balliol College, Oxford University 1813
by George III
(on the refusal of Walter Scott)
"God's Judgement on a Wicked Bishop"
"The Inchcape Rock"
"After Blenheim"
"Cataract of Lodore"
21 March 1843
William Wordsworth 105px 7 April 1770
Cockermouth, Cumberland
St John's College, University of Cambridge 1843
by Victoria
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"
"The Prelude"
"Tintern Abbey"
The Lucy poems
"The World Is Too Much with Us"
23 April 1850
Grasmere, Cumberland
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 105px 6 August 1809
Somersby, Lincolnshire
Trinity College, University of Cambridge 1850
by Victoria
(on the refusal of Samuel Rogers)
"The Charge of the Light Brigade"
"Tears, idle tears"
"Crossing the Bar"
In Memoriam A.H.H.
6 October 1892
Haslemere, Surrey
Alfred Austin 105px 30 May 1835
Headingley, Leeds
University of London 1896
by Victoria
(on the refusal of William Morris)
"The Season: a Satire"
"To England"
2 June 1913
Ashford, Kent
Robert Bridges Robert Bridges 23 October 1844
Walmer, Kent
Corpus Christi College, Oxford University 1913
by George V
"The Evening Darkens Over"
The Testament of Beauty
21 April 1930
John Masefield 60px 1 June 1878
Ledbury, Herefordshire
King's School, Warwick
(Did not attend university)
by George V
"The Everlasting Mercy"
"Reynard The Fox"
12 May 1967
Abingdon, Oxfordshire
Cecil Day-Lewis 27 April 1904
Ballintubber, Queen's County, Ireland
Wadham College, Oxford University 1968
by Elizabeth II
"Newsreel" 22 May 1972
Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire
John Betjeman 105px 28 August 1906
Hampstead, London
Magdalen College, Oxford University 1972
by Elizabeth II
"The Conversion of St Paul"
19 May 1984
Trebetherick, Cornwall
Ted Hughes Ted-Hughes-March1993 17 August 1930
Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire
Pembroke College, University of Cambridge 1984
by Elizabeth II
(on the refusal of Philip Larkin)
Moortown Diary
Tales from Ovid
Birthday Letters
28 October 1998
Andrew Motion 26 October 1952
University College, Oxford University 1 May 1999
by Elizabeth II
Retired on 1 May 2009
"The Letter" Still alive
Carol Ann Duffy Carol Ann Duffy at Humber Mouth 2009 (3646825708) 23 December 1955
University of Liverpool1 May, 2009
by Elizabeth II
The World's Wife Still alive


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