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13 April 2008

On this day in history: First official Poet Laureate to British Crown, 1668

Whilst there had been various unofficial royal poets previously, the first person to be officially recognised as poet laureate by letters patent was John Dryden on 13th April, 1668. King Charles II also conferred upon him the title of historiographer royal on 18th August 1670.

Following the ascension to the throne King James II in , Dryden converted to Catholicism. Apparently, this was not to curry favour with the new monarch who had rapidly promoted many Catholics to high public office. Dryden was a critic of this policy, which - in his view - was counter-productive. Indeed, in 1688, Parliament approached William of Orange and his Stuart wife Mary with the offer of the crown in order to protect protestantism in Britain.

James went into exile, and Dryden lost his position as poet laureate to his rival, Thomas Shadwell, because he would not swear allegiance to the new monarchs. He continued to write until his death from gangrene in 1700. He was initially buried in a parish church before being interred in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

You can find out more about Dryden and his works on his page at the Bartleby web site.