The legend of the Green Children of Woolpit speaks about some fantastic events that reportedly occurred in medieval England in the 12th century. The events involved the sudden appearance of two children in the village of Woolpit.
The unusual thing about these children was that they had a green skin color. The children then continued to live in the village which prompt a lot of interest. Two notable sources of history from around the same time, one from the late 12th century and the other from the early 13th century mention the legend.
The two key historical sources for this story include two medieval writers. One of these was Ralph of Coggeshall. He was the abbot at a monastery located nearly 25 miles from the village of Woolpit. According to his writings, he lived at the same time as the green children and one of the children was still alive at the time he wrote about them.
He wrote the story in his work Chronicum Anglicanum, written around 1220.
The other writer was William of Newburgh, who mentioned the story in detail in his work Historia Rerum Anglicarum, written around 1189. William was a canon in Yorkshire, at a considerable distance from the village of Woolpit. The accounts of Ralph and William are the main sources for the legend of the green children of Woolpit.
According to the legend, the green children arrived in the village of Woolpit at the time of harvest one summer. These were two children, a boy, and his sister. Both children had green skin and spoke a language that was not familiar to the people of the village. They couldn’t explain how they had arrived in Woolpit.
According to them, they were herding their father’s cattle when they suddenly heard a noise and found themselves in Woolpit. In another version, they had entered a cave while following their cattle, then became lost, and emerged at the other side after hearing bells.
The green children couldn’t initially speak the English language, so they couldn’t communicate. But once they learned the language, they were able to explain how they came to Woolpit. They also told the people about the land from which they had become. According to them, they came from a country known as ‘Saint Martin’s Land’ where all the people were green and there was no sunlight but a perpetual twilight.
According to the legend, both green children wouldn’t do anything in the village until they were offered beans. They ate the beans with a great appetite. Gradually both children were able to adapt to village life. They would eat the same food, wear the same dress, and learn the local language as well. Both children were baptized as Christians. Over time, the green skin color faded and the children came to have a normal skin color. The boy eventually died after becoming sick but the sister survived.
One of the two green children of Woolpit apparently survived. This was the sister who some folklore researchers have identified as Agnes. According to some researchers, Agnes lived to old age, married a royal official called Richard Barre, and came to be known as Agnes Barre.
Different explanations of the legend of the green children have been attempted by scholars over the centuries. Some believe that the green children were normal children who had fled into the forest after some family tragedy and lived there long enough to be malnourished, which caused the green skin color.
Others think that they actually came from a subterranean place occupied by other people like them. A third theory states that the green children were actually aliens who were somehow transported from their plant to our world through some accident.