The Green Children of Woolpit: Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale

WoolpitSign Commemorating the tale of the Green Children of Woolpit
Woolpit Sign Commemorating the tale of the Green Children of Woolpit

Intro

Folklore is a form of storytelling that has existed since ancient times. Many cultures have their own unique forms of folklore, including tales of fairies, demons, ghosts, monsters, heroes, and gods. These tales often tell us about the lives of ordinary people. Some stories may even be true. Others may not be entirely fictional. Folklore has always been important to humanity. People have shared stories about the supernatural for thousands of years.

Scholars have consistently rejected most stories as freakish contortions of medieval superstition and generosity imagination. There remains little academic interest in what medieval legends reflect about the way of life of those who told them.

The Green Children of Woolpit

The Green Children of Woolpit is a Medieval British folk tale that has come down to us all the way from the 12th century AD. The legend comes from a small agricultural community by the name of Woolpit, located in the East-Anglian county of Suffolk.

It was during this time that the village was shaken by the appearance of two young and strange children. They were a boy and a girl, presumably brother and sister, and they were spotted coming from the wolf trenches used by the residents of Woolpit.

The children spoke an unidentified language, sported unusual attire, and most amazingly, had green skin. Both children were transferred to the residence of Sir Richard de Calne, which was located nearly six miles from Woolpit. It was eventually determined that the children were related to one another.

The Green Brothers of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale
The Green Brothers of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale

It was reported that the only thing the children ate during the first few days of their stay was beans. Slowly, they became accustomed to the various diets, and the green tint of their skin began to change to a “normal” colour. Unfortunately, shortly after the sister was baptized, the boy would come down with an illness and pass away, while his sister would pull through.

As time went on, the surviving child was successful in learning English and shared her story with the villagers. She said they came from a land that had no sunlight, and, according to other versions of the tale, everything was green. She said that this land was called St. Martin’s Land.

She and her brother were tending to their father’s flock when they were startled by a peculiar sound that forced them to take refuge in a cave. After making their way down the cave and emerging on the other side, the siblings found themselves in Woolpit, where they were confronted by the reapers who had found them.

Following the disclosure of this information, Richard de Caine gave the young woman the name Agnes and employed her for several years until she wed Richard Barre, the Archdeacon of Ely. It is said that Agnes adjusted well to her new life, but after her marriage, local reports considered her to be ‘very wanton and impudent’. There is one child listed as having been born to the couple, according to one report.

Medieval Chroniclers

The tale of the Green Children of Woolpit was recorded by two near-contemporary historians. The first record of the tale was by Augustinian monk William of Newburgh, in his ‘Historia Rerum Anglicarum’ in 1189 AD.

The second account of this tale comes to us from a Cistercian monk named Ralph of Coggeshall, who would go on to become the 6th abbot of Coggeshall Abbey in Essex, England. Ralph wrote about the Green Children of Woolpit in his ‘Chronicum Anglicanum’ written in 1220 AD.

The Green Children of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale -
The Green Children of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale

The story of the Green Children of Woolpit went mostly unnoticed through the centuries, with brief passing mentions in historical records from the 15th and 17th centuries. The story went through a revival during the 20th and 21st centuries, where it piqued the curiosity of modern historians who tried to find reasonable explanations in an effort to explain where the children came from.

Possible Explanations for the Green Children of Wooolpit

The question that must be answered is whether or not this narrative is based on true events that occurred in history. Assuming that it is a true recorded historical event, there have been many hypotheses put out over time in an effort to explain where the children came from, and why they were green, including the following:

Possible Explanations for the Green Children of Wooolpit
Possible Explanations for the Green Children of Wooolpit
Flemish Migrants

One of the most accepted theories as to the origins of the Green Children of Woolpit is that they were orphans, most likely Flemish (modern-day Belgium) Migrants that landed in England after their parents perished in the Battle of Fornham of 1173.

There was a nearby village in the Fornham settlement called St Martins, and it is believed that the children came from there and, after their parents died, they went down an underground mine tunnel in the region that led them to Woolpit.

The Green Children of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale 3
The Green Children of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale

However, there are two main issues with this hypothesis. On the one hand, it does not explain why the children were green. Secondly, and most important of all, educated people like Richard de Calne who took the children in, would have known what Flemish sounded like at the time, even if he wasn’t able to speak it himself (it is not known whether he could speak the language or not).

Arsenic Poisoning

Another theory for the Green Children of Woolpit is that they suffered from arsenic poisoning. And most likely were abandoned by either their parents or caregivers somewhere in the boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk, expecting them to perish soon.

One of the many side effects of arsenic poisoning is a fingernail pigmentation called leukonychia striata, which causes greyish-silver or white colourations that could be mistaken as green.

Chlorosis

A much more accepted hypothesis instead of arsenic poisoning is that the Green Children of Woolpit suffered from Chlorosis, otherwise known as Hypochromic Anaemia. This condition is a blood disorder in which the blood has a reduced ability to carry oxygen due to a lower amount of red blood cells. Among other side effects such as shortness of breath or headaches, this condition is known to manifest a distinct greening of the skin. However, once a normal amount of food has been consumed, the skin will revert to its natural appearance. Historically speaking, Chlorosis has been known as the ‘green sickness‘.

“Fallen from Heaven”: Extraterrestrial Origins of the Green Children of Woolpit

There are 3 main ‘alien hypotheses’ regarding the Green Children of Woolpit.

The first one of them is that the children come from deep within the Earth’s core, a world beneath the Earth whereas many mythologies would have the centre of the Earth as being hollow, with many unknown creatures and civilizations living underneath. In this case, the lack of natural sunlight would give a natural green tinge to everything living in that realm as part of their biological processes.

Another hypothesis strongly influenced by Christian beliefs of the time is that the Green Children of Woolpit fell from heaven.  Whether they fell to Earth accidentally or went sent by God is unclear. Scholar Robert Burton (“The Anatomy of Melancholy”, 1621) was a big proponent of this theory.

Lastly, the last hypothesis for the Green Children of Woolpit’s origins is that they were extra-terrestrials that accidentally got transported to Woolpit from their home planet as a result of a ‘matter transmitter’ malfunction. It has been suggested that the Children of Woolpit’s original home planet might be trapped in a synchronous orbit around its sun, presenting the conditions for life only in a narrow twilight zone between a fiercely hot surface and a frozen dark side.

The Green Brothers of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale
The Green Brothers of Woolpit Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale

The number of creative individuals, such as authors, painters and composers, who have been and continue to be impacted by this tale is endless. Even though the true details of the case may never be discovered, the tale continues to captivate people and inspires fresh narratives with each passing generation.

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2 thoughts on “The Green Children of Woolpit: Possible Explanations of a 12th Century Tale

  1. this is such a fascinating article, The tale of green children is something I have never heard of.
    But after reading the possible explanation the tale seems to be somewhat true.
    Personally, I would rather believe they were green because of arsenic poisoning. Also, the myth that they came from the world deep from the earth also can be true.

  2. Ta ai uma história muito interessante, e o pior que não é, de um passado tão distante, e poucas pessoas sabem.

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