Green Children of Woolpit

Introduction

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 and prompt a lot of interest. Two notable sources of history from around the same time, one from late 12th century and the other from early 13th century, mention the legend.

Historical Sources for the Story

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.

Arrival of the Children

According to the legend, the green children arrived in the village of Woolpit at the time of harvest during one summer. These were two children, a boy and his sister. Both children had a green skin and spoke in 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.

Saint Martin’s Land

The green children couldn’t initially speak 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.

Life in Woolpit

According to the legend, both green children wouldn’t anything at the village until they were offered beans. They ate the beans with a great appetite. Gradually both children were able to adapt to the village life. They would eat the same food, wear the same dress, and learned the local language as well. Both children were baptized as Christians. Over time, the green skin color faded and the children came to have normal skin color. The boy eventually died after becoming sick but the sister survived.

The Surviving Green Child

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 an old age, married a royal official called Richard Barre, and came to be known as Agnes Barre.

Explanations

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.

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