The Mysterious Story Of The Green Children Of Woolpit

During the reign of King Stephen in 12th-century England, legend has it that the inhabitants of Woolpit, in Suffolk, were surprised by the sudden appearance of two green-skinned children who could not speak their language. According to Historic UK, the children — a boy and a girl — were taken to the house of Sir Richard de Calne where they refused every meal the man offered. The children found beans in his garden, however, and they ate them straight away. While some sources describe them as green beans, others refer to them as broad beans or fava beans.

In one version of the story, both children stayed with Calne for years. Slowly, they learned the new language and changed their diet, making their green color disappear. When they learned English, they were asked where they come from and said: “We are inhabitants of the land of St. Martin, who is regarded with peculiar veneration in the country which gave us birth” (via Historic UK). After the revelation, Calne decided to baptize them, and the boy dies shortly after that. Years later, the girl, who was named Agnes, married Richard Barre, archdeacon of Ely.

In another version, the boy gets ill and dies after they arrived in town. The girl learns how to speak English, and she explains how they got there, saying that they were taking care of their family’s cattle when they heard a noise and were caught in a wolf pit. Some people also say that they got lost while herding the cattle (via Mental Floss).

Were the children real or only a legend?

Tales from folklore often feature impossible (or at the very least, implausible) stories. However, some of them may also have a logical explanation — and the mysterious green children of Woolpit might be one of them.

According to Historic UK, they were probably children of Flemish immigrants, and their parents could have been persecuted and killed by King Stephen. They got lost, and the only language they could speak was Flemish. It is also possible that someone left them to die in a forest near the Norfolk-Suffolk border (via Mental Floss).

There are also some compelling theories about their green color. The children could have suffered from a condition called Hypochromic Anemia (Chlorosis), as green skin can be one of the symptoms of a condition that affected some 16% of those admitted to London’s St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in the 1890s, for instance (via Ozy). If that was the case, when they have started eating a more varied diet, their skin tone would have returned to normal. Another theory is that they were victims of arsenic poising (via History of Yesterday).

But whether the reality was that these poor unfortunate children really existed or were simply folklore, the story still captures imaginations to this day. 

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