Poet Laureate, a poet officially crowned with laurel. The custom of crowning the poets successful in a musical contest originated among the Greeks, and was adopted by the Romans during the empire. It was revived in the 12th century by the emperor of Germany, who invented the title of poet laureate. Henry V. crowned his historian, and Frederick I. the monk Gunther, who had celebrated his deeds in an epic poem. But no great interest was attached to the title until the coronation of Petrarch in the capitol at Rome in 1341. Tasso died just as the honor was about to be conferred on him. In Germany, the custom, after having apparently fallen into disuse, was restored by the emperor Frederick III., who crowned AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini and Con-radus Celtes. Maximilian I. crowned Ulrich von Hutten, and gave to the counts palatine the right of bestowing the laurel crown in their own name; and when Ferdinand II. gave to the counts of the imperial court singly the right of conferring the laurel, its value declined. After Ulrich von Hutten, the most prominent poets crowned in Germany were George Sabinus, John Stigelius, Nicodemus Frischlin, and especially Martin Opitz, who in 1625 was crowned by Ferdinand II. at Vienna, and was the first who received the laurel for poems written in the vernacular tongue.
The last poet crowned in that country was Karl Reinhard, editor of Burger's poems. The imperial privilege was also given to universities, and the degree of poeta laureatw was conferred by continental and also by English universities. The French had royal poets, but no laureates. The title existed in Spain, but little is known of those who bore it. The early history of the laureateship in England is traditional. The common story is that Edward III. in 136V, emulating the crowning of Petrarch at Rome, granted the office to Chaucer, with a yearly pension of 100 marks and a tierce of Malvoisie wine. The legend probably arose out of an annuity of 20 marks granted by that monarch to his " valet Geoffrey Chaucer," with the controllership of the wool and petty wine revenues for the port of London, the duties of which he was required to perform in person. Henry Scogan is mentioned by Ben Jonson as the laureate of Henry IV. John Kay was court poet under Edward IV., and Andrew Bernard held the same office under Henry VII. and Henry VIII. John Skelton received from Oxford, and subsequently from Cambridge, the title of poet laureate; and Spenser is spoken of as the laureate of Queen Elizabeth, on the ground of his having received a pension of £10 a year when he presented her the first books of the "Faerie Queen." Up to this time the laureateship had not been established, nor can any certain trace of wine or wages be found.
But the introduction into England from Italy of masques during the reign of Elizabeth rendered necessary the employment of poets, and in 1619 James I. secured the services of Ben Jonson by granting him by patent an annuity for life of 100 marks. Although not mentioned in the document as the laureate, he was doubtless deemed such. In 1630 the laureateship was made a patent office in the gift of the lord chamberlain, the salary was increased from 100 marks to £100, and a tierce of Canary wine was added, which was commuted in the time of Southey for £27 a year. From that time there has been a regular succession of laureates. The following is a list:
Henry James Pye.
As might be inferred from many of the names in this list, political considerations often controlled the appointment, and at length a strong feeling was raised in favor of its abolition. After the final derangement of George III. in 1810, the performance of the annual odes was suspended, and subsequently discontinued. On the death of Pye the office was offered to Walter Scott, who declined it and Southey was appointed with the virtual concession, which has since become the rule, that he should only write when and what he chose. Wordsworth wrote nothing in return for the distinction, and Tennyson has written little.