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The Poet Laureate and the gift of sherry

designs for Carol Ann Duffy's sherry bottle label, RCIN 1102981©

The Poet Laureate was given a small stipend by the monarch and a butt, or barrel, of sherry. The tradition began in 1630 for Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637), who wrote poetry for James VI and I and Charles I but never had a formal appointment. John Dryden, the first official Poet Laureate, also received the ‘butt of sack’, the sweet wine now known as sherry, and the tradition continued until 1800.

The custom was revived in 1984 by the Sherry Producers of Spain, who now present a butt of sherry (equivalent to 720 bottles) to the Poet Laureate. Ted Hughes, Sir Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy have all visited Jerez in Spain to accept their sherry and each have had special labels designed for their bottles.

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