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In English, the word laureate has come to signify eminence or association with literary or military glory. It is also used for winners of the Nobel Prize.

History

The laurel, in ancient Greece, was sacred to Apollo, and as such was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes; and this use has been widespread. "Laureate letters" in old times meant the dispatches announcing a victory; and the epithet was given, even officially (e.g. to John Skelton) by universities, to distinguished poets.

The name of "bacca-laureate" for a bachelor's degree shows a confusion with a supposed etymology from Latin bacca lauri (the laurel berry), which, though incorrect, involves the same idea. From the more general use of the term "poet laureate" arose its restriction in England to the office of the poet attached to the royal household, first held by Ben Jonson, for whom the position was, in its essentials, created by Charles I of England in 1617. Jonson's appointment does not seem to have been formally made as poet-laureate, but his position was equivalent to that. The office was a development of the practice of earlier times, when minstrels and versifiers were part of the retinue of the King; it is recorded that Richard Coeur de Lion had a versificator regis (Gulielmus Peregrinus), and Henry III of England had a versificator (Master Henry); in the 15th century John Kay, also a "versifier", described himself as Edward IV of England's "humble poet laureate". Moreover, the crown had shown its patronage in various ways; Chaucer had been given a pension and a perquisite of wine by Edward III of England, and Spenser a pension by Queen Elizabeth I. W. Hamilton classes Chaucer, Gower, John Kay, Andrew Bernard, John Skelton, Robert Whittington, Richard Edwards, Spenser and Samuel Daniel, as "volunteer Laureates".

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Poet Laureate

Sir William Davenant succeeded Jonson in 1638, and the title of poet laureate was conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670 two years after Davenant's death, coupled with a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary Islands wine. The post then became a regular institution, though the emoluments varied, Dryden's successors being T. Shadwell, who

See also

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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