The story of the Green Children of Woolpit is a curious, enduring mystery of English folklore. As the tale goes, during the 12th century, two green-hued children, a brother and sister, appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, England. Their startling appearance, coupled with their inexplicable clothing and unknown language, perplexed the villagers and sparked a tale that has been shared and analyzed for centuries.
Woolpit, at the time of the tale, was an agricultural village located in the English county of Suffolk. Its name derives from the Old English “wulf-pytt,” meaning “pit for trapping wolves,” reflecting the common practice of constructing pits to capture wolves that posed a threat to livestock. Woolpit’s quiet, pastoral life was jarringly disrupted when these mysterious green children were discovered.
The children’s journey to Woolpit, their strange characteristics, and their subsequent adaptation to ordinary life, all form an intriguing tale that crosses the boundary between history and myth. Despite centuries of speculation and a host of theories, the true identity and origin of the Green Children of Woolpit remain shrouded in mystery. The account has been passed down through generations, earning its place in both local lore and the wider world of historical curiosities.
The Discovery of the Green Children
According to the accounts, it was during the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154) or King Henry II (1154-1189) when reapers working the fields outside Woolpit discovered the two children, a boy and a girl, beside one of the wolf pits that gave the village its name. The children were immediately remarkable due to their skin, which was described as a peculiar green hue unlike anything seen before.
The green children were dressed in unfamiliar clothing, fabricated from a material that none of the villagers could recognize. They were weeping, seemingly disoriented and confused, their fear amplifying the mystery of their sudden appearance. Perhaps even more baffling, they spoke in an unknown tongue, a language no villager could comprehend, which further alienated the children from the community.
The villagers brought the children back to Woolpit, where they were taken in by a local landowner, Sir Richard de Calne. Despite being offered various types of food, the children would initially eat nothing, adding to the village’s concern and confusion. Eventually, they were offered beans still in the stalk, which they consumed voraciously, further intriguing the villagers with their strange behavior.
The green children gradually began to eat other food, but while their diet changed, their language did not. As months passed, they started to lose their green coloration, adopting a more human-like hue. Tragically, the boy grew increasingly sickly and eventually died, leaving the girl alone in this strange new world.
Who Were the Green Children of Woolpit?
Over time, the surviving girl began to learn English, enabling her to finally communicate with the villagers and offer some explanation for their mysterious arrival. She described a land where everything was green, like herself and her brother had been. She spoke of a twilight world without a visible sun, where the light was like permanent dusk. This, she said, was a place known as “St. Martin’s Land,” a realm she claimed existed somewhere far beneath the Earth’s surface.
She told the villagers that she and her brother were tending to their father’s flock when they discovered a cave. Drawn by the sound of bells, which sounded similar to the bells of the local St. Edmund’s church, they ventured inside. After wandering through the darkness for what seemed like a long time, they emerged into the bright sunlight of the Woolpit countryside, disoriented and frightened.
As for the green children’s identity, many theories have been proposed over the centuries. Some believe they were extraterrestrials, given their strange coloring and cryptic origin story. Others have suggested they were inhabitants of a subterranean world, pointing to the girl’s description of her homeland. There are also those who contend the children were victims of a form of anemia known as hypochromic anemia, which could explain both their green hue and their strange language, potentially a Flemish dialect unintelligible to the Suffolk villagers.
Another popular theory posits the green children as the orphaned offspring of Flemish immigrants who settled in the region around the time of the story. This theory suggests that the children may have fled into the Suffolk wilderness following the harsh repression of the Flemish by King Henry II, getting lost in the dense network of ancient mining tunnels known as the Fens, before emerging near Woolpit.
Why Were the Woolpit Children Green?
Medical science may offer some insight into the mystery of the green children’s peculiar hue. Chlorosis, a form of anemia also known as “green sickness,” has been cited as a possible explanation. This condition, often linked with poor diet, can result in a greenish complexion due to a reduction in red blood cells and a rise in biliverdin, a bile pigment that can turn the skin green.
It’s conceivable that the children’s green coloration might have been the result of malnourishment or dietary imbalances. Their preference for beans—a high source of iron—when they first arrived could be an indicator of this. As their diet became more varied and nutritious in Woolpit, their natural skin color may have gradually returned.
Another possibility is arsenic poisoning, which can also result in a greenish skin color. If the children had indeed spent time in the mining tunnels of the Fens, they may have been exposed to arsenic or other toxic minerals, leading to a change in their skin color.
The Legacy of the Green Children
The girl, having adapted to her new life, eventually lost her green complexion completely and was baptized. She learned to speak fluent English and was named Agnes. She reportedly integrated well into the community, even though she was always considered somewhat loose and impudent in her conduct.
Agnes later married a man from King’s Lynn, a senior ambassador of Henry II, and seemed to live a relatively normal life henceforth. Despite her peculiar beginning, she became a part of the fabric of society, leaving behind her strange past. The mysterious circumstances of her arrival were never fully understood, nor the exact nature of the green hue she and her brother initially possessed.
The story of the Green Children of Woolpit is one of the most fascinating mysteries of English folklore, straddling the realms of the unknown and the explainable. It remains a tantalizing blend of history, myth, and conjecture, inviting us all to ponder what lies beyond the familiar, and reminding us of the endless capacity for wonder in our world.