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Reference list

Poets laureate (1668–2009)

Some accounts date this office from 1616, when Ben Jonson was named poet laureate. The official post dates from 1668, when Charles II gave John Dryden a formal warrant awarding him the title. Since then the poet laureate has been appointed by the lord chamberlain, acting on the instructions of the reigning monarch, although since 1790 the prime minister has been responsible for recommending the appointee. Since 1689 the post has been awarded for life. (In the same year the Catholic John Dryden was stripped of office for failing to take the oath of allegiance.) The laureateship is largely an honorific post, except that poets laureate are expected—though, not since William Wordsworth's appointment in 1843, required—to write verses for court and national occasions (such as birthdays, baptisms, marriages, and deaths, victories, peace treaties, and various acts of national endeavour). The tradition of writing a new year ode started with Thomas Shadwell, who also introduced the practice, largely discontinued after 1820, of writing a yearly ode on the monarch's birthday.

The poet laureateship has twice been refused: by Thomas Gray in 1757, and by Samuel Rogers in 1850. In 1813 the laureateship was turned down by Sir Walter Scott, who recommended Robert Southey—which was fortunate, as Southey had also already been offered the post.