Cedric the Forester by Bernard Marshall

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Gadzooks! The 1922 Newbery award “runner up” (later renamed Newbery Honor) Cedric the Forester by Bernard Marshall (originally published by Appleton, 1921) is a perilous romp, wherein knights clash with the churls of Medieval England, united in a quest against invaders from Scotland and Wales. Furthermore, the saga tells the story of a Cedric, a humble yet loyal forester, whose valor elevates him to the esteemed ranks of Norman English society. ‘Tis noteworthy that Cedric’s esteemed status as a brave knight allows him to stand strong as a voice for the lowly of the country by advocating for rights for all English citizens, not just the nobility and knights. Thus with the (possibly) true aspects to Medieval history, young scholars may wish to peruse Cedric the Forester whilst learning of the significance of the Magna Carta.

The Language in Cedric the Forester

If you like reading the paragraph above, the writing of Cedric the Forester will be a delightful children’s novel. (I will admit about a quarter of the paragraph above was composed with the help of Chat GPT because I couldn’t think of the archaic words I wanted to say my piece.) I felt the author went a little overboard: maybe he sprinkled a collection of archaic words onto the pages before sitting back down to put it in order. In some respects this is well done: the writing is consistent throughout the book. For a youth unaccustomed to the style, it will be a difficult read initially.

As I read this style, I couldn’t help but think of the knights and castle in another children’s book. In Five Children and It, the children wished they were under siege. An army of knights appeared in front of their house, and the chapter is full of this type of silly knight talk. Cedric must be the kind of “knights” book that the children had read that prompted that wish. (Please note that Nesbit’s book was published in 1902 and Cedric was published in 1921, so this was not truly the case.)

About Cedric the Forester

Dickon of Mountjoy, a fifteen-year-old knight-in-training, narrates Cedric’s journey to knighthood. Much of Cedric’s journey is mingled into Dickon’s own life as he and his family navigate the difficulties of a local property dispute between their own fiefdom and another. Cedric’s prowess with a crossbow saves Dickon’s life, and Dickon pledges to take him on as his page. Because of Cedric’s outstanding loyalty in battle, he is eventually knighted.

Throughout all these happenings, Cedric represents the common man. He is of Anglo-Saxon stock, not Norman. His father is a forester. (A forester is one who is the caretaker of the forests in a local fief.) He is not literate (until Dickon teaches him). With this identity, in various situations, Cedric stands up for servants who were beaten, other foresters who are unjustly treated, and a runaway servant. Cedric’s kindness helps Dickon see a new perspective of the world. Although Dickon’s father is not happy with Cedric’s viewpoint, Cedric stood up for himself, and Dickon took note.

Ultimately, Cedric stands up for the rights of all English citizens when the knights set up a committee to begin drafting what would become the Magna Carta. King John has begun taking away the rights of knights and imposing his own will on them. Their fiefdoms are diminished, and good knights are thrown in prison at will. Now, the group of knights (including Dickon and Cedric) debate how to deal with the situation. They decide to write a document to declare the laws that the king needs to follow. Cedric is the voice that speaks up for all English citizens. Unlike other laws in England at the time, which only protected the landowners and titled Normans, they add in a line on the document that declares the rights of all English citizens.

The last chapters lack the fighting scenes and bloodshed that the rest of the book contained, so they probably will appear much less interesting. When I say bloodshed, I want to state for the record: there are lot of drawn blood in this novel. Sword and crossbow fights, including those with the near neighbors and others with the poachers in the forest. A war with the Welsh, who were invading. A fascinating duel before the king (Dickon’s father “threw in the gauntlet”). So much fighting made me wonder how any children made it to adulthood long enough to have children! Death was ever a possibility, even walking around the local community!

Because the last chapter is more philosophical, I think many children will bore quickly. It doesn’t have the same tone as the rest of the book in the excitement sense. It seems Marshall wanted to speed up the story at some point, so many years passed, long enough for Cedric and Dickon (now Sir Richard) to grow to adulthood and allow them to have a say in the charter. I like there was a connection to a historical event (the signing of the charter at Runnymeade) but I wish it was as a part of the action in the story, and not just the footnote at the end.

Dated Elements of Cedric the Forester

The most glaring issue for me in Cedric the Forester is in the question of what types of situations and people are the author’s conjecture, and what is actually accepted as a part of Medieval English history. Marshall creates a war with the Welsh. He creates a unique community system that fights with each other. He creates a counsel of knights. And, of course, he creates a forester that is elevated to become a knight. Are any of these things portrayed as history suggests they may have been? I feel sensitive to perpetuation of various stereotypes, and I hesitate to recommend a dated and inaccurate book for that reason.

Somewhat minor problematic elements also include:

  • An obvious (to be expected) lack of diversity. (The only females that appear at all are Dickon’s mother and another boy’s both, and that is probably two pages in the book).
  • Negative portrayal of the Welsh during battle. The text suggests a lack sophistication among the Welsh because they have different armor and ways of fighting.


I hate to rate books, because I may feel one way today and another way tomorrow. But, I’m reading these Newbery Award and Honor books because I want to see if they are worth reading today. It’s just my opinion but I’d like a record of how I feel right now about it.

I rate Cedric the Forester Newbery Honor from 1922 as “pretty good” and say “maybe read it if you have time.”



Reviewed on July 28, 2023

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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