Poet Laureate

This page provides selected poetry and illustrated biographies of all of the United Kingdom’s ‘Poet Laureates’ to date. The role of Poet Laureate does not involve any specific duties, but there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions.

Carol Ann Duffy

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. Four poets, Philip Larkin, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship. The following list is in chronological order:

John Dryden
b. 1631 – d. 1700
John Dryden was an English poet, literary critic and translator, and playwright who was made England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668. He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as ‘The Age of Dryden.’ Dryden was poet laureate between April 1668 and January 1688 under the reign of King Charles II.

Thomas Shadwell
c. 1640–1692
9 March 1689 – 19 or 20 November 1692
William III and Mary II

Nahum Tate
1652–171523 December 1692 – 30 July 1715
William III and Mary II

Nicholas Rowe
1674–1718
1 August 1715 – 6 December 1718
George I

Laurence Eusden
1688–1730
10 December 1718 – 27 September 1730
George I

Colley Cibber
1671–1757
3 December 1730 – 12 December 1757
George II

William Whitehead
1715–1785
19 December 1757 – 14 April 1785
George II

Thomas Warton
1728–1790
20 April 1785 – 21 May 1790
George III

Henry James Pye
1745–1813
28 July 1790 – 11 August 1813
George III

Robert Southey
1774–1843
12 August 1813 – 21 March 1843
George III

William Wordsworth
1770–1850
6 April 1843 – 23 April 1850
Victoria

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1809–1892
19 November 1850 – 6 October 1892
On the death of Lord Tennyson, who held the post between November 1850 and October 1892 (appointed by Victoria), 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.

Alfred Austin
1835–1913
1 January 1896 – 2 June 1913
Victoria

Robert Bridges
1844–1930
25 July 1913 – 21 April 1930
George V

John Masefield
<1878–1967
9 May 1930 – 12 May 1967
George V

Cecil Day-Lewis
1904–1972
2 January 1968 – 22 May 1972
Elizabeth II

John Betjeman
1906–1984
20 October 1972 – 19 May 1984
Elizabeth II

Ted Hughes
1930–1998
28 December 1984 – 28 October 1998
Elizabeth II

Andrew Motion
1952–
19 May 1999 – May 2009
Elizabeth II

Carol Ann Duffy
1955–
1 May 2009 – May 2019
Elizabeth II

Prayer
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy


Simon Armitage
1963–
10 May 2019
Elizabeth II