The green children appeared suddenly outside the village of Woolpit in Suffolk one day. But who were they? And what did they want?
Nothing much happened in 12th-century Woolpit. By day, the men of the tiny Suffolk village worked the fields. By night, they prayed for a good harvest. That was village life in England during the 1150s…
Until, one day, workers in the fields around the village came across two children – a boy and a girl – each with green-tinged skin and green eyes. And each speaking a language the workers had never heard before. The children seemed oddly dazed.
Not knowing what else to do, the villagers took them to see a local knight, Sir Richard de Calne. Educated and well-travelled, perhaps he’d understand the children’s unfamiliar language. But he couldn’t.
Concerned, he called for food for the pair. But they refused almost everything – bread, meat, pastries – accepting only broad beans.
Then, the little boy took ill. And less than a year after he’d appeared in Woolpit, the green boy died. But the girl only got stronger. She started eating other foods, and the green tinge gradually began to fade.
In time, she learned to speak English and she told Richard de Calne her story. She, and her little green brother, came from a place no-one in Woolpit had ever heard of. It was called Saint Martin’s Land. There, the sun never rose fully. The people lived in dusky twilight.
One day, the girl and the boy had been with their father, tending cattle. One of the animals had wandered astray and the children had followed. They came to the edge of a cavern. From inside was coming the chiming of bells. The youngsters entered, and suddenly found themselves in the fields outside Woolpit.
Their eyes hurt – they’d never seen sunlight before.
Baffled, Sir Richard consulted his friend, the monk and scholar Ralph of Coggeshall. But he hadn’t heard of Saint Martin’s Land, either.
Some years later, Ralph of Coggeshall included her strange, unearthly story in his book, The English Chronicle.
But, of the girl herself, nothing more is known.
Some say she ended up living in nearby King’s Lynn as a woman of ill repute. Others say she took the name Agnes and married an advisor to the King of England.
Even now, over 800 years later, she remains an enigma. As does her story.
One theory is that the chidlren’s parents were Flemish weavers. In the 1100s, many had come to the east coast of England to sell their cloths and fabrics.
Perhaps the children had become separated from their parents and drifted aimlessly to Woolpit?
Another tale concerns the coastal village of Fornham Saint Martin. It’s possible a family of Flemish weavers settled there. That the girl got confused and called it Saint Martin’s Land.
Could the children have had chlorosis, a rare type of anemia caused by malnourishment? In extreme cases, the condition can cause the skin to look green.
But what of the language they spoke?
Most of the villagers would never have left Woolpit, or come across Flemish.
Except for the educated, land-owning Sir Richard de Calne.
Flemish cities were then among the richest in the world. It would have been all but impossible for him not to have recognized the Flemish language.
There are those who believe the green children didn’t come from this world at all…that they belonged to an alien race.
Academics have suggested their planet has one side permanently facing away from the sun. Which explains why the girl said she’d lived in constant twilight.
But these are only theories. Not answers. If there ever were any answers, they have now been lost to time and history…
A clue in the beans?
Is it significant that the green-hued youngsters would only eat broad beans? The ancient Celts of the British Isles only ever ate broad beans at funerals. The ancient Egyptians considered broad beans unclean. Egyptian pharaohs and priests refused to eat them. And the ancient Romans thought broad beans housed the souls of the dead. If you ate too many and had an attack of wind, you might end up farting out your soul…