A poet laureate (plural: poets laureate) is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, who is often expected to compose poems for special events and occasions.
The Italians Albertino Mussato and Francesco Petrarca were the first to be crowned poets laureate after the classical age, respectively in 1315 and 1342. In Britain, the term dates from the appointment of Bernard André by Henry VII of England. In modern times, the title may also be conferred by an organization such as the Poetry Foundation, which has a designated Children’s Poet Laureate. Other examples are the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate, which is designated by a “Presenting Partners” group from within the community; the Minnesota Poet Laureate chosen by the League of Minnesota Poets (est. 1934); the Northampton Poet Laureate chosen by the Northampton Arts Council, and the Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate chosen by ten judges representing the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society.
In ancient Greece, the laurel was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes. This custom, first revived in Padua for Albertino Mussato, was followed by Petrarch’s own crowning ceremony in the audience hall of the medieval senatorial palazzo on the Campidoglio on the 8th of April 1341. Because the Renaissance figures who were attempting to revive the Classical tradition lacked detailed knowledge of the Roman precedent they were attempting to emulate, these ceremonies took on the character of doctoral candidatures.
As the concept of the poet laureate has spread, the term “laureate” has come in English to signify recognition for preeminence or superlative achievement (cf. Nobel laureate). As a royal degree in rhetoric, poet laureate was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognized skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.