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The Early Poets Laureate

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John Dryden was the first official Poet Laureate until 1689, when he was obliged to resign. His successors were Thomas Shadwell and Nahum Tate. All three were dramatists as well as poets, and they collaborated frequently with composers such as Henry Purcell.

The prestige of the role diminished in the eighteenth century and Poets Laureate were appointed chiefly to uphold the political establishment. Henry Pye was at one time MP for Berkshire and a supporter of the Prime Minister William Pitt. In 1813 the celebrated Scottish author Sir Walter Scott was offered the role, but declined as he did not wish to write to order. Robert Southey was appointed instead and under him and William Wordsworth the writing requirements were eased; Wordsworth only accepted the post after being reassured that no work would be required of him.