Undernourished Children?The tale of the green children dates from the middle of the twelfth century, in the realm of either King Stephen or his successor King Henry 11. In Suffolk, England, according to medieval chroniclers, two green children, weeping inconsolably, were found wandering in a field. Seized by reapers, they were taken to the nearest village, Woolpit, and held in captivity at the home of Sir Richard cle Calne where local people came to gape.
According to William of Newburgh, the children were clad in "garments of strange color and unknown materials." They could speak no English and refused all food offered them. A few days later, on the brink of starvation, they were brought "beans cut off or torn from stalks," wrote Abbot Ralph of Coggeshall, who allegedly had the story from the Calne himself. The children "broke open the beanstalks, not the pod or shell of the beans, evidently supposing that the beans were contained in the hollows of the stalks. But not finding beans within the stalks they again began to weep, which, when the bystanders noticed, they opened the shells and showed them the beans themselves. Whereupon, with great joyfulness, they ate beans for a long time, entirely, and would touch no other food."
Soon the children were baptized, and not long afterwards the boy weakened and died. The girl learned to eat other foods and was restored both to health and to normal skin color. She learned to speak English and took employment in service to a knight and his family. She "was rather loose and wanton in her conduct," Ralph of Coggeshall wrote.
Asked about her native country, "she asserted that the inhabitants, and all that they had in that country, were of a green color; and that they saw no sun, but enjoyed a degree of light like what is after sunset. Being asked how she came into this country with the aforesaid boy, she replied, that as they were following their flocks they came to a certain cavern, until they came to its mouth. When they came out of it, they were struck senseless by the excessive light of the sun, and the unusual temperature of the air; and they thus lay for a long time. Being terrified by the noise of those who came on them, they wished to fly, but they could not find the entrance of the cavern before they were caught."
In William of Newburgh's account, the children said their country was called St. Martin's Land. Its people were Christians. There was no sun there, but across a broad river a bright, shining land could be seen. Eventually the woman married and reportedly lived for years at Lenna in Suffolk.
Newburgh remarked, "Although the thing is asserted by many, yet I have long been in doubt about the matter, deeming it ridiculous to credit a thing supported by no rational foundation, or at least one of a mysterious character; yet, in the end, I was so overwhelmed by the weight of so many competent witnesses that I have been compelled to believe and wonder over a matter I was unable to comprehend and unravel by the powers of my intellect." A modern writer, British folklorist Katharine Briggs, says, "This is one of those curiously convincing and realistic fairy anecdotes which are occasionally to be found in the medieval chronicles."
Another recent chronicler, Paul Harris, speculates that the children were not aliens from another realm but simply lost, undernourished children who had wandered into flint mines in the vicinity of Thetford Forest, near the village of Fordham St. Martin. "Perhaps from the twilight of the thick woodlands the children could see a less forested and therefore sunnier land across the river Lark," he writes. They may have spoken in an English dialect "unintelligible to the insular 12th Century farmworkers of Woolpit."