Medieval Studies Henry Scogan
Andrew Galloway
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0034


Henry Scogan (b. c. 1361–d. 1407) emerged into view accurately only with Kittredge 1892 (cited under Biography), as a very minor poet lucky enough to know and be sent a witty poem by Chaucer (the short “Lenvoy a Scogan”), and as a substantial landowner and member of the courtly world. Scogan apparently wrote his own, later 189-line “Moral Balade” (c. 1406) for the four sons of Henry IV, the only work now attributed to him. It is notable for its enshrinement of the ideal of a wise, deceased Geoffrey Chaucer, and for presenting directly an example of Chaucer’s “vertuous sentence”: Chaucer’s complete poem “Gentillesse” is quoted entirely within Scogan’s poem, as support for one of the themes that Scogan wishes to expand on. Scogan was in service to Richard II, and was presumably the princes’ tutor because the tone of the “Moral Balade” is openly didactic. Scogan’s connections to Chaucer are otherwise untraced, apart from a debt to a merchant who had also loaned money to Chaucer as well as many other figures in Chaucer’s circle and beyond (Rickert 1926, p. 118; see Biography).


Though we know little about it, Scogan’s life has been of more interest than his one poem, chiefly because he constitutes an important instance of the “Chaucer circle,” a focus made explicit in Hallmundson 1981. Kittredge 1892 sorted out the main life records and situated Scogan’s landholdings, as well as providing the correct reading of some disputed moments in Chaucer’s poem to Scogan. Scogan’s role is presumed to have been the tutor to King Henry IV’s four sons, whom a later scribe (John Shirley) identifies as the addressees of the “Moral Balade”; Green 1980 (pp. 75–76) situates this position within the court, whereas, more recently, Pearsall 2006 stresses Scogan’s role as linking London merchant culture with the royal court. Scogan’s loan from major London moneylender merchant Gilbert Maghfeld, from whom Chaucer also borrowed a small sum (discovered in Rickert 1926), allows a glimpse of their shared urban connections. Gray 2004 succinctly summarizes Scogan’s life and poem.

  • Gray, Douglas. “Scogan, Henry (c.1361–1407).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Useful, tersely cogent guide to known life and life-records. Available online by subscription.

  • Green, Richard Firth. Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.

    Drawing on poetic and archival evidence, Green presents a detailed and well-informed discussion of the social, intellectual, and literary spheres of the late-medieval English court, stressing this context (rather than, for instance, London) as central for the period’s literary production. Treatment of Scogan is brief (esp. pp. 75–76) but within a broadly informative context concerning those who became tutors to the royal family.

  • Hallmundson, May Newman. “Chaucer’s Circle: Henry Scogan and His Friends.” Medievalia et Humanistica, n.s., 10 (1981): 129–137.

    Traces Scogan’s life among the higher merchant caste in London, Norfolk gentry, and king’s chamber knights who knew Chaucer. Reliable except for speculation about a pui (poetic contest) in late-14th-century London (p. 132; no evidence survives for an English pui after the 1330s). Notes connections of Scogan to associates of Thomas Hoccleve, and observes parallels between “Moral Balade” and Hoccleves’s “Male Regle” (pp. 134–135).

  • Kittredge, G. L. “Henry Scogan.” Harvard Studies and Notes 1 (1892): 109–117.

    Refutes earlier claim that Scogan wrote The Court of Love and summarizes life records indicating Scogan’s immediate family, his ownership of a manor in Norfolk—thus his identity as a “landed gentleman of substance” (p. 116)—and death in 1407. Presents the first clear interpretation in print of Chaucer’s “Envoy to Scogan” as an older Chaucer’s wry scolding of the younger man for having finally given up on a beloved woman who had persisted in ignoring him.

  • Pearsall, Derek. “The Canterbury Tales and London Club Culture.” In Chaucer and the City. Edited by Ardis Butterfield, 95–108. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2006.

    Discusses the thin but intriguing evidence of a local coterie audience for Chaucer’s poetry and other London poetry: the headnote to Scogan’s “Moral Balade” by John Shirley claiming it was read “at a souper . . . in the Vyntre in London, at the hous of Lowys Johan,” Chaucer’s original family neighborhood, suggests that this was a setting for other poetic connections between the mercantile world and the court.

  • Rickert, Edith. “Extracts from a Fourteenth-Century Account Book.” Modern Philology 24 (1926): 111–119, 249–256.

    DOI: 10.1086/387628

    Includes notice (p. 118) of Scogan’s debt to a London merchant, Gilbert Maghfeld, who also engaged in transactions with Chaucer, John Gower, the London Guildhall, and even the king. Translation of this and other items from Maghfeld’s account book appears in Chaucer’s World, compiled by Edith Rickert, edited by Clair C. Olson and Martin M. Crow (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), p. 190.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.