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The Fascinating Story of the Green Children of Woolpit

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

The Fascinating Story of the Green Children of Woolpit

The Fascinating Story of the Green Children of Woolpit

Is It a Folktale or an Actual Historical Event?

Whenever I talk about the story of the green children of Woolpit, I get two extreme reactions.

  • The sceptics say the story is a perfect example of medieval superstition and freakish imagination.
  • On the other end, the believers say that the children belonged to a ‘fairy underworld’ not known to us with some even telling that the green children were alien beings.

That said, the truth lies somewhere in between. Yes, the strangest element of the story is that it is actually true although blotched by multiple concoctions of legends and myths that have obscured the truth that lies somewhere in between.

And the fact that the story has been still going strong for the last 1000 years is because it has been vouched by two famous English historians Ralph of Coggeshall and William of Newburgh.

Ralph claimed to have heard the story first hand from the famous squire Sir Richard de Caine himself and wrote about it in 1189 called the Chronicon Anglicanum. William on the other hand published the story in Historia rerum Anglicarum later in 1220 after hearing it from ‘trustworthy’ sources.

Is it a folktale or a garbled account of an actual historical event? Experts have done their best to explain but of no avail.

Is it a folktale or a garbled account of an actual historical event? Experts have done their best to explain but of no avail.

Is it a folktale or a garbled account of an actual historical event? Experts have done their best to explain but of no avail.

The Story of the Green Children

The village of Woolpit is in the county of Suffolk, East Anglia, about seven miles east of the town of Bury St Edmunds. During the Middle Ages it belonged to the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, and was one of the most densely populated areas in rural England.

It happened during the reign of King Stephen in the 12th century (1135-1154). One day at the harvest time, the villagers of Woolpit discovered two strange children standing by a wolf pit ( huge pits used for trapping wolves) that apparently gave the village its name.

The children were strange looking. Everything was unfamiliar about them. Their skin was bright green. They did not speak a word of English and even the clothes they wore were completely different from that region.

And the surprising thing was that they were not appearing like orphans. They were clearly starving and when the villagers tried to give them bread, they flatly refused to eat. It was only when one of the villagers brought them green beans, they started eating with relish.

The villagers could not understand what they were saying as they were speaking in an unknown language. And by using signs they could interpret that the children couldn’t remember how they arrived at Woolpit.

The villagers could not understand what they were saying as they were speaking in an unknown language. And by using signs they could interpret that the children couldn’t remember how they arrived at Woolpit.

The Villagers Were Stumped

The villagers could not understand what they were saying as they were speaking in an unknown language. And by using signs they could interpret that the children couldn’t remember how they arrived at Woolpit. All they could remember was they had been tending to their father’s cattle, got lost, and then walking around aimlessly suddenly found themselves by the wolf pit.

Not knowing what to do, the villagers took them to chief landowner Sir Richard de Calne who agreed to let them live in his house. The boy later became sick and died but the girl regained her health and eventually lost her green-tinged skin probably due to the change in diet. She also learned to speak English and was baptized as ‘Agnes’ who was then later married to a man at King’s Lynn, in the neighboring county of Norfolk.

It was after she learned English, she told the villagers about her true origins. As per her, she and her brother came from the ‘Land of Saint Martin’, a land where there was no sun, but a perpetual twilight, and its inhabitants were green like them.

She describes a cave where she and her brother had wandered by ‘accident’ and came out the other end in ‘bright sunlight’ as she called it. That was when wandering, the villagers of Woolpit found them.

Neither Ralph nor William offers an explanation about what happened to Agnes later in life and her story subsequently became entangled in a fantastic mesh of legends, rumors, and folktales over the years.

Over the centuries, many explanations have been put forward to explain this strange story.

Over the centuries, many explanations have been put forward to explain this strange story.

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Can It Be Explained?

Over the centuries, many explanations have been put forward to explain this strange story.

Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that the children were suffering from Hypochromic Anaemia, originally known as Chlorosis which is caused by malnutrition and poor diet. The condition results in giving a remarkable green shade to the skin. The fact that the girl lost her green color after a good diet supports this argument.

And regarding the strange clothes and language they spoke, historians believe that they may be Flemish immigrants escaping the persecution of King Henry II. Dressed in strange Flemish clothes and speaking another language, they would have appeared strange the very English-speaking villagers of Woolpit.

Of course, there are others who don’t buy this explanation and say that they are either travelers from another parallel dimension of time or came from a mysterious ‘underground’ world that is not known to mankind yet.

Whatever be the truth the green children of Woolpit have continued to remain an enigma for the last thousand years as the event refuses to fit comfortably within the normal medieval scheme of things.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Farah N Huq from Dhaka, Bangladesh on October 25, 2021:

“She describes a CAVE where she and her brother had wandered by ‘accident’ and came out the other end in ‘bright sunlight’ as she called it. That was when wandering, the villagers of Woolpit found them.”- this and from the land of “twilight"- Did you read my poem “A Different Twilight Saga”, Ravi? It is about something I experienced myself. Please read it and let me know if you find any strange similarities.

Too much wandering in twilight can be injurious to health it seems! Haha...Anyway,

A fascinating story indeed. I have never seen a green person with hypochromic anaemia though. Perhaps because of the darker skin tone people have in this part of the world. I feel like examining these two kids.

Great article! Stay blessed!

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Rebels. on October 25, 2021:

Wow! What an interesting and informative article. It reminds me of The Mask: Animated Series.

Thank you so much for sharing this information.

Blessings to you!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on October 25, 2021:

Thanks, John for your kind comments.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 25, 2021:

Another intriguing article from you, Ravi. Your articles are always quite unique and never disappoint.

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