In vino veritas – Sherry and the Poets Laureate
It’s Festival time in Edinburgh, which means big new exhibitions at all the galleries and museums. One of my favourite galleries is the Queen’s Gallery, attached to the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh – the Palace of Holyroodhouse. So imagine my delight that a favourite gallery had launched an exhibition with a connection to sherry. My glass runneth over!
Poetry for the Palace is a celebration of the Poet Laureate – a role conferred by the monarch on an outstanding British poet. The tradition of appointing a Poet Laureate goes back 350 years and at first the job was for life and came with strings attached – you could only write about royal events and with the approval of the monarch. These days the appointment is for 10 years and the poet can write on any subjects of their choice. 2014 is half way through the current Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s tenure, and this is the main focus of the exhibition along with her collaboration with textual artist Stephen Raw. However, there’s also a section dedicated to the history of the role and some of its interesting traditions.
This is where sherry comes in. Originally the Poet Laureate was paid a very small allowance and a butt of sherry per year. Yes, one per year! This stopped in 1790 when Henry Pye asked to be paid a salary instead. However, the tradition was reinstated in 1984 when Ted Hughes was appointed Poet Laureate and the Consejo Regulador of the Sherry DO invited him to receive a butt of sherry in Jerez. Since then each Poet Laureate has been invited to Jerez upon their appointment, to receive and sign their butt.
They have the opportunity to design their own label, and then are shipped 720 bottles of sherry (the equivalent of the butt) of different types with their personalised labels.
The butt of sherry now has to last them the whole ten years though. This came as something of a relief to Ted Hughes, who’s letter to the Queen Mother which appears in the exhibition says:
Old Ben Jonson (sic), Dryden and the rest drank a butt a year – two bottles a day! As well as their Canary, their Port, their small beer, their claret.
I’m surprised some of our past Poet Laureates could stand up, let alone write poetry, with that kind of intake!
However, they do say
in vino veritas
and I’m certain a small glass of Fino stimulates creativity!