The legend of the green children of Woolpit concerns two children of unusual skin colour who reportedly appeared in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, England, some time in the 12th century, perhaps during the reign of King Stephen. These were no ordinary orphans: The boy and girl spoke in an unknown tongue, sported strange clothing, and only ate raw beans, and their skin was green.
The story was recorded by two 12 th century chroniclers – Ralph of Coggestall (died c 1228 AD), an abbot of a Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall (about 26 miles / 42 km south of Woolpit), who recorded his account of the green children in the Chronicon Anglicanum (English Chronicle); and William of Newburgh (1136-1198 AD), an English historian and canon at the Augustinian Newburgh Priory, far to the north in Yorkshire, who includes the story of the green children in his main work Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs). The writers stated that the events took place within the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) or King Henry II (1154-1189), depending on which version of the story you read.
The Story Of Green Children Of Woolpit
While the reapers were working in the fields during the harvest time, two young children emerged from deep ditches excavated to trap wolves, known as wolf pits, hence the name of the village (Woolpit). Their skin was tinged with a green hue, their clothes were made from unusual materials, while their speech was something the locals couldn’t understand. A reaper discovered the pair and took them into town, where Sir Richard de Calne gave them a home.
In time, they lost their viridescent pallor and diversified their diets, though the boy became increasingly depressed and sickly before succumbing to illness and dying. The girl survived, learnt to speak in English, and relayed the story of their origins. She described that she came from a land of continuous twilight, and named it as the “Land of Saint Martin”. She claimed that everyone around her was green like them, and that there was another luminous land across the river. She also said that she and her brother entered a dark cave, from where when they came out, they saw a bright sunlight and the farm workers found them.
Explanations Of The Story
If the story is based on actual events, there are a few plausible explanations for the green tint. One theory is that the children had arsenic poisoning. The story goes that their caretaker, an earl from Norfolk, left them to die in a forest near the Norfolk-Suffolk border. Another more likely (and less depressing) culprit is chlorosis, a type of iron-deficiency spawned from malnutrition that leads to a greenish complexion.
Yet another (and perhaps most likely) theory postulates that they were the children of Flemish immigrants who were persecuted and killed—possibly in the battle at Fornham in 1173. Fornham St. Martin was a nearby village, separated from Woolpit by a river and just a few miles from Bury St. Edmunds, where loud bells often chimed. It’s possible that the children had been orphaned, suffered a poor diet while lost and on their own, and eventually made their way to Woolpit from Fornham St. Martin by following the clanging bells.
Whatever the children’s origin, the sister eventually became integrated into English society. She was baptized and allegedly later married a man at King’s Lynn, possibly an ambassador of Henry II, though conflicting reports say she became “rather loose and wanton in her conduct.” She may have taken the name “Agnes Barre,” though as with most things in the story of the Green Children, there’s simply no definitive evidence.