Posted on: September 28, 2011

  • In: Uncategorized

This is one of the oddest legends to come out of Medieval England.  It occurred in the Suffolk village of Woolpit, a few miles from Bury St Edmunds.  It was chronicled by a 13th century writer, Ralph of Coggeshall, Abbot of a Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall, and a 12th century writer, William of Newburgh, Canon of Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire.  It is said that during the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154), two children – a girl and a boy- were found sobbing and distressed near one of the wolf pits on the edge of the village one harvest-tide.  They had green skin, wore odd garments made out of a material no one could identify, and spoke no known language either.

They were taken to the home of the local lord of the manor, Richard de Calne.  The children refused to eat for several days, and everybody was growing concerned, until someone had an inspired moment and presented the children with a plate of green beans.  The children scoffed the beans hungrily, and for a while this was all they would eat.  They stayed at the manor, and eventually their skin lost its odd green hue.

The boy (the youngest of the pair) didn’t adapt well to his new surroundings, and eventually grew sick and died.  The girl was more fortunate.  Eventually she learnt to speak English, and she told everyone an intriguing tale.  She said they had come from a land which had no sun, it was permanently bathed in twilight.  She called this place St Martin’s Land, and everything in it was green.  She described it as a Christian land.  Across a broad river she said they could see a shining land.

She said that one day they had been herding her father’s cattle when they heard a loud noise (this was thought by some to be the bells of Bury St Edmunds Abbey).  They followed the cattle into a cave, and emerged into the countryside around Woolpit.

The girl was employed at the manor for many years, where she was said to have got quite a reputation for being “wanton”.  She was given the name Agnes, and was eventually married off to a royal official called Richard Barre.

The story is like something out of a fairytale, and many of course think that’s where it belongs.  Some believe it but think the children may have got lost in Thetford Forest (which is quite an enchanting place in itself).  Others think the children may even have been aliens, and it is true that many Little People/Fairy stories from centuries ago do bear strong resemblances to tales of UFO abduction, or encounters with extraterrestrials, that we get nowadays.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the story is an enduring one, and some claim that there are people around in Suffolk to this day who are distant descendents of Agnes.  The mysterious green children are even commemorated in the village sign.

ADDENDUM: astronomer Duncan Lunan posited the theory that the children may have been aliens, who arrived on this planet due to a malfunction in “their matter transmitter”.  He believed that the girl may even have given birth to a baby by no less than King Henry II himself.  He claimed to have traced the girl’s descendants to a deputy head of the House of Lords during Margaret Thatcher’s time, who gave the reaction that he knew his ancestors had been a colourful lot, but not THAT colourful!



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