I first heard about the Green Children of Woolpit, England while watching a UFO conspiracy show. The expert theorized, of course, that the children had come from another planet. But after reading the “historical account” for myself, I learned their origins were decidedly terrestrial, stemming from a middle earth philosophy. Then and there, I knew I had to tell, or rather, retell this irresistible story.
While writing “The Bells of Bury St. Edmunds,” I included several Old English words, including that of Wlpit—the authentic spelling of Woolpit at the time. I also researched medieval music, including the piece referenced in my story, “Divinum Mysterium,” a chant with roots in the twelfth century.
Here’s what we know about the mysterious children:
During King Stephen’s reign (1092 – 1154)—not to be confused with Stephen King’s reign (1974 – current)—a brother and sister accidentally fell into a pit outside of Woolpit, England. When a reaper found them, their green skin startled him. Despite his fear, the man took them to Woolpit where townsfolk isolated the otherworldly visitors in a hut for several days to study them. The villagers learned many things about the children during this time: the sun bothered their eyes terribly, they would only eat raw beans, their clothes were made of foreign fabric, and they spoke a strange language. Once villagers deemed them safe, brother and sister were sent to serve Sir Richard de Calne, a knight who purportedly lived between Woolpit and Bury St. Edmunds on Wikes Manor.
Shortly after the pair’s arrival, the brother died. The sister, renamed Agnes, thrived and continued to serve the knight for years to come. Once she learned enough English, she explained to her master that she was from St. Martin Land, a faraway place of perpetual twilight. She said that she and her brother were tending their father’s cattle when they heard a strange chiming sound. They followed this music, climbing through a cave, only to emerge near Woolpit. After exhibiting “loose and wanton” conduct, Agnes eventually married a man from King’s Lynn, a neighboring town, and had many children.
But the way I imagined it, Agnes was a very, very bad girl first.
If you want to read my spooky, gothic retelling, just sign up to receive my newsletter and you’ll get a free copy. “The Bells of Bury St. Edmunds” is 12k words long. So you’ll be turning pages for a while. If you’d like to read a more “factual” account of these children, check out Woolpit, England’s website. The Wikipedia entry does a fair job of explaining it here. I hope you find this old legend as intriguing as I did. I had fun writing this story!
Your turn, dear reader. Ever heard of this myth? Do you think it’s true? If so, where do you think the pair came from?