The Green Children of Woolpit,  Part 2

by Duncan Lunan

Click on this link for: The Green Children of Woolpit, Part 1

So Where Were They From?

The green children didn’t recognise the bean-plants – they didn’t even know which part was edible, but the colour was crucial.  There’s an elision in what the girl says below:  not every living thing in her homeland is that colour, just everything that’s safe to eat.  It’s not a deficiency but an additive, a colour code so simple that even children know it.

And what she said about that homeland was clearly what impressed Robert Burton:  “Naturally when now they had our habit of speaking, they were asked who and from whence they were, they are said to have replied:  ‘People of the land of Saint Martin, who of course in the land of our birth is held in the very highest exceptional respect.’… Asked whether the Sun rose [in that place], ‘But the sun’, they said, ‘of our countries does not rise;  and our country is little lit by its rays, but is satisfied with that measure of light, which with you precedes sunrise or follows sunset.  Moreover a certain bright land is seen not far from our land, with a very broad river dividing the two’.  These and many other things, which it would be tedious to retell, [my italics!]  they are said to have replied to those struck inquisitively.”  (WN)

“Truly asked often about the people of her country, she asserted that they saw no sun, but were pleased with a certain light, as if happened after sunset… When they emerged from the pit, as if astonished and made breathless with fear by the excessive brightness of the sun and the unaccustomed temperature of the air, they stayed for a long time over the rim of the cavern…”  (RC)

It sounds like an earthlike world, with a trapped rotation, keeping one face to its sun as the Moon does to us. We used to think that Mercury’s rotation was trapped, and that it might allow life to exist in the ‘twilight zone’ – the origin of the expression.  But Burton knew from the astronomy of the Renaissance that such conditions couldn’t be found on Earth.  There used to be major doubts that such worlds could be habitable, though Carl Sagan for one thought that they might11 – but it’s considered a lot more likely nowadays.  They may be found orbiting red dwarf stars, which are more than half of the 500 billion in the Galaxy;  or around orange K-type stars, as Sydney Jordan has depicted the children’s world;  or possibly even orbiting G-type stars like the Sun.

Fig. 8 colony planet with habitable twilight zone, orbiting an orange K-type star, by Sydney Jordan for Children from the Sky’.

The ‘very broad river’ round the terminator could be part of the temperature control system.   Without planetary engineering, an earthlike world with a trapped rotation could become uninhabitable:  oceans could boil, triggering a runaway greenhouse effect before the atmosphere froze out on the dark side.12  The details William found tedious might include mountain barriers between daylight zone and dark:  glaciers there would feed the river, graded to run back towards the equator.

To maintain a breathable atmosphere the twilight zone must be intensively cultivated, forested, or mostly shallow sea.   However, if the atmosphere could be contained there, that would greatly reduce the volumes of oxygen and nitrogen required…

July 1994 saw the multiple impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter.  The stress of a previous flyby had split the comet into 22 pieces, which hit the planet next time.  It renewed interest in the overlapping crater chains on Ganymede and Callisto, the two of Jupiter’s large moons which preserve the record of bombardment during their history.  The longest of the chains spans 620 kilometres, with 25 craters of about 25 km. diameter, formed by bodies less than 4 km. across.13  On Earth, the impacting asteroid which killed the dinosaurs was about 16 km across and its crater ten times that size.  Chains of those could form a deep groove on the planet’s surface, as on a much smaller scale with Phobos, the inner moon of Mars.  A 100-mile wide trench round an earth-sized planet from pole to pole would take 250 such objects, reasonable for a typical planetary system.

A cometary body 80 km. across could provide a breathable atmosphere for our Moon, which has 1/16 the surface area of the Earth;14  that corresponds to 8000 Shoemaker-Levy-type fragments from 400 large cometary nuclei.  As the valley’s area is only 1/80 of the Earth’s, 100 such impacts would give it an earthlike atmosphere  (after processing by algae and higher plants)  with a channel as wide as the Mississippi along the centre.  But to terraform just one hemisphere’s twilight zone half as many asteroids and comets would be needed;  and that might be all, because on the Moon, Mars and Mercury there’s ‘chaotic terrain’ opposite the big impact basins – broken up by the shockwaves from the far side of the planet.  Perhaps a habitable valley doesn’t even need to run from pole to pole?  I’ve had fun designing this world, with friends, but I’ll have to let Sydney Jordan’s pictures tell the story.

Fig. 11. colony valley with plant cover, by Sydney Jordan for ‘Children from the Sky’

The children were human:  no abnormalities, adapted to terrestrial food, lost their previous colouring, the girl apparently married and had children of her own.  If they weren’t from the future, their home settlement was built by another species who transplanted terrestrial life to the new world.  “Truly asked often about the people of her country, she asserted that as many as all the inhabitants and all plants that were held in that land/world were dyed with the colour green.” (RC)  If plants there were genetically modified to distinguish terrestrial life from what’s inedible, humans could be dyed by it:  vegetable dyes here turn people purple or orange if ingested, and in medieval times, permanent green dye for clothing was made from elderflowers.  Ralph says the girl believed food here to be incomestibilia, ‘things not to be consumed for nourishment’ –  not ‘poisonous’.   It suggests other life-forms which the human system can’t absorb – perhaps because of different proteins, different amino acids, or a left-hand/right-hand molecular bias opposite to ours.15  It would be a long-term experiment in compatibility of different life-forms – perhaps intended to be one-way, to prevent back contamination of Earth, but on-site, biospheres without walls.

William’s account and Ralph’s both use the causative word quia, ‘because’.  The children came here BECAUSE they were out with their father’s animals on a particular day, as if they shouldn’t have been.  William’s word pascere, to pasture, can mean to enlarge a flock or herd.   Were the children caught in a backlash of a livestock transfer from Earth to the colony?

“We heard a great sound, as now we’re accustomed to hear at Saint Edmund’s cum signa concrepare dicuntur, ‘when they say the bells are ringing’, after which they found themselves at Woolpit, “suddenly, as if placed in some absence of mind” (WN).   ‘Signa concrepare’ was a medieval Latin metaphor for ringing bells, but it means ‘flags waving violently’, which could describe the ‘whirling draperies’ effect of an auroral display.  And that may suggest the children understood what happened to them.

When the radiation belts trapped in the Earth’s magnetosphere are overloaded by sub-atomic particles from the Sun, auroral storms occur where the magnetic field lines enter the upper atmosphere.  Power-lines and communications can be badly affected.   But aurorae can’t happen on a world with a trapped rotation.  Coriolis forces would be almost ineffective within it, whereas currents within the core generate Earth’s magnetic field.  So the children’s planet won’t have one.

And the second half of the 12th century saw the most violent solar activity since the Bronze Age – shown by tree-ring records, naked-eye sightings of sunspots, and vivid aurorae further south than usual, in the Far East as well as Europe.16  On Christmas night, 1172, during an auroral display, a clap of thunder “sudden and terrible” was heard throughout England, Ireland, and France, like a sonic boom, or an airburst like the Tunguska meteorite of 1908.17   In February 1173, again during an auroral display, a mass of fire passed over Derry in Northern Ireland, moving south-east, and was “as bright as the rising midsummer Sun” on the northern horizon at Canterbury.18 Auroral storms continued for 25 years, but 1173 was the peak.  It’s sometimes easier to understand high technology by what can go wrong with it, and these incidents helped my friend Andrew Paterson to see what may have been happening.

Fig. 12. Medieval aurora, ‘dragons seen fighting in the heavens’, by Sydney Jordan for ‘Children from the Sky’

The matter-transmitter would be a combination of the ‘quantum scanning’ and ‘wormhole’ systems, which John Cramer and others have described in Analog.19  Surface gravity on the two worlds linked would have to be very similar – but when they arrived here, the children were able to run.  Normally it would need locating devices, generating matched electrical fields at the two locations – which momentarily become one, when the fields merge.  But gateways to other worlds could be opened initially, at random, by setting a charge which could be matched by lightning and other natural effects on an earthlike world.  So in the unexpectedly intense magnetic storms of the late 12th century, stray electric fields on Earth could cause matter-transmitter accidents.  Or does the transmitter disturb the magnetic fields of Earth and Sun – we know interesting things were happening in the Bronze Age.  (See ‘Epsilon Boötis Revisited’, last week and the week before.)

After the Trial

William of Newburgh says the girl then married a man of Lynn  (modern King’s Lynn)  and dropped out of sight.  But he also said she arrived in the reign of King Stephen, before 1155, and 1173 is more likely for Ralph’s account.  The Lynn story is probably a cover-up:  in 1190 Lynn staged a massacre of Jews, which turned into a major riot by foreign seamen, as William himself recounts.  So if William looked for an old woman and couldn’t find her, he’d think she was killed in the fighting.  Ralph’s account of her early adult years is more interesting.

“Being later reborn by immersion of holy baptism, and remaining for many years in the service of the aforesaid knight (as we frequently heard from the same knight and his family), she showed herself greatly wilful and independent…”  (RC)  Ralph’s words lasciva et petulans mean literally ‘lascivious and wanton’;  that might be the 12th century view of a woman from a sophisticated culture, someone we would describe as liberated, but then why give her house-room for years?

When Ralph says she was in service of de Calna, most take that to mean as a domestic servant.  Not at all, I found when I checked the categories of feudal service.  ‘In ministerio praedicti militis’ means administrative service, like government ministry or the ministry of the church;  and medieval manor didn’t have female servants.  Since de Calna held two large estates, plus properties in Essex and Hertfordshire, he was making full use of her intelligence.

So why ‘wanton and lascivious’?  If the Bishop made her Sir Richard’s ward, de Calna would have to find her a husband at the age of fourteen.20  Even if her exact age was unknown, he’d have a problem if he wanted to keep her.  He could only be freed from the obligation to marry her off if she were unchaste, so blackening her name at Coggeshall, from where it would get back to London, might do it.  She would also lose any de Calna property the king had assigned to her.

I thought I’d identified her as Sibylla de Calna, a royal ward, with a marriage to John Fitz-Bernard personally arranged by the king.21  But Sibylla was lord Richard’s grand-daughter, five years old when she was orphaned in 1185, too young to fit in with the other dates.  But there was an older co-heir to some minor property in 1198, named Agnes, who is never identified as a de Calna.  She was married to Richard Barre, probably de Calna’s godson and one of Henry II’s most senior ambassadors, who was on Geoffrey Ridell’s staff in the 1173 rebellion – so he could have been in charge of Woolpit when the children arrived.

Agnes and Richard had an illegitimate son, named after him, in 1177-78 when she would first have been of marriageable age.  Apparently she rejected the child:  the boy was fostered out with Barre’s neighbours in Staffordshire, and it let de Calna brand her ‘wanton and lascivious’ while still having her run his estates, even though it appears that she married in 1180.  She had a legitimate son that year, although children could be legitimised by later marriage.   Meanwhile, other things were happening.

The Search Party

Probably Bishop Foliot gave orders from Henry for the children’s upbringing, but it was too late for the boy, overcome as he was by depression – a condition worsened by green beans, on which he had lived for so long.  It would be good to find his body, especially if he was wearing the clothes of unknown colour and material in which he arrived – but it’s not likely because, after 1176 but before Ralph reached Coggeshall, a group of knights dressed and speaking as top-ranking Templars appeared inside the Abbey grounds.3  Though seen at the Guest House and the cemetery, they jumped in, around and out again unobserved.  Locally this incident is now called ‘the Ghost Templars’, but neither Ralph nor his witnesses described them as ghosts:  they were tough soldiers who might do serious harm.  (Templars wouldn’t be buried in the Brothers’ cemetery anyway.)

Abbot Peter would undoubtedly report this intrusion to the Bishop of London.  It would convince Henry II that there were people with great powers within his realm – and perhaps that he should put pressure on the Templars, to gain control or access.  If he did, the consequences apparently were dramatic.

On June 18th, 1178, according to the chronicler Gervase of Canterbury, “there appeared a wonderful sign, five or more men witnessing it…” apparently the flare from an impact on the Farside of the Moon, forming the crater Giordano Bruno.22  But the Latin text goes on to further details, which would not have made sense until the Comet Shoemaker-Levy event.  “It repeated this change, and more than it, twelve times – [my emphasis] – namely the various torments of fire, as if it endured again what had already happened, and returned to its former state.  And after these and such changes, it was made as if darkened from one horn all the way to the other.”18

Fig. 13. Multiple impacts on the lunar Farside, 1178, by Sydney Jordan for ‘Children from the Sky’

If that was a natural event, it’s an astonishing coincidence so soon after the children’s arrival, probably the year Agnes had a son.  But if the extraterrestrials could stage such events at will, were the lunar impacts their response to pressure from Henry II, on their people on Earth?   They could have treated him to a close-up view, and showed him what would happen if they put a row of such impacts through his lands in England and France.  He was in Normandy at the time, but within two weeks, he and the king of France made a sudden and unexpected pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas à Becket, and for Henry it was an annual event from then on.  If he was pressurising the English Master of the Templars, perhaps even threatening Agnes and her new-born son, he had been frightened off.  And next year, while he was celebrating Christmas at Winchester, there was a mysterious underground explosion in County Durham, as if to underline the message.

After that, it went quiet, but more incidents in the 1190s, 1205 and two more in 1236, again involving the Templars, suggest the operation was continuing.23  So what was Agnes doing, meantime?

In 1187 Richard Barre was abroad on major embassies for Henry II, but he returned to East Anglia in 1190 and probably they moved to his family property in Staffordshire, because de Calna’s heirs rented out Wykes soon afterwards – his three grandsons were respectively a knight, a clerk and a priest, so perhaps they couldn’t manage if they’d become dependent on Agnes to run things for them.  Richard Barre was now a roving justice, holding courts all over England.  Their legitimate son, William, was legally adult by 1194 at age 14, and his wife later was Christiana;  Barre’s first, namesake son didn’t contact Agnes until the 1220s, after Barre’s death in 1209, and William Barre’s, and not long before his own.   She outlived her husband and her legitimate and bastard sons, but was supported by Christiana and grandchildren named Richard and Maud, until 1238 at least.

At the time the first version of this article was published in Analog, in 1996, I had followed the Barre trail for another century before it petered out.  But after the article appeared I was contacted by a reader who had traced his own family tree back to a Sir John Barre of 1340.   Could there be a connection?  In fact they dovetailed perfectly.  Suddenly I could trace the green girl’s descendants all the way to the present, and one of them was then the late Earl Ferrers, High Steward of Norwich Cathedral and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords under Margaret Thatcher.  When ‘outed’ by the Glasgow Evening Times  (‘Tory Lord Descended from Green Woman from Outer Space’), he thought it was a hoot:  “I knew my ancestors were colourful, but not that colourful”.

Meanwhile, back in Suffolk, Sibylla and her husband John reclaimed Wykes by force in 1224.   John Fitz-Bernard died in 1229, and Sibylla and her son sold Wykes and Knettishall to Hugh de Shardilow in 1235.  Things started happening again just after that, in 1236, with events involving Templars in Yorkshire and in Ireland, whereupon de Shardilow was apparently posted missing.  I’m still trying to find out whether he was a Templar, and what became of him.

After 1236, it’s more than a century before anything else fits the pattern;  but there were big events in 1361 and 1366, and lesser ones in 1402, which might be part of it.  In my book, I’ve  advanced some controversial ideas as to that pattern, e.g. that the peaks of solar activity in the bronze age correspond to the creation of the colony valley, and the rising activity through the 12th century marks its settlement.

Or perhaps the conspiracy didn’t involve Contact at all;  but as my late friend John Braithwaite also said, “If someone invents a story like this, they tend to make it out of whole cloth – it won’t stand up to this kind of detailed investigation”.  Whatever the true explanation,  I can’t better the last words of William of Newburgh, at the end of his Chapter 27:

“Let each one say what he wishes, and account for these things as best he can;  but it does not grieve me to have set forth this strange and wonderful event.”


11.  Carl Sagan & I.S. Shklovskii, Intelligent Life in the Universe, Holden-Day, 1966.

12.  Stephen H. Dole, Habitable Planets for Man, Blaisdell, 1964;  Martyn J. Fogg, ‘A Planet Dweller’s Dreams’, Analog CXII, 12, 60-77  (Oct. 1992).

13.  Paul M. Schenk, ‘Comet to Hit Jupiter:  Jovians Doomed!‘;  (Anon) ‘Hubble Takes a Closer Look at Shoemaker-Levy’, Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin, 69, 1-5  (Nov. 1993).

14.  James E. Oberg, New Earths:  Transforming Other Planets for Humanity, Stackpole Books, 1981.

15.  T.A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns, Stackpole Books, 1979.

16.  John A. Eddy, ‘The Case of the Missing Sunspots’, Scientific American, 236, 5, 80-88 & 92, May 1977;  ‘The Maunder Minimum’, Science, 192, 4245, 1189-1202  (18th June, 1976);  Sigeru Kanda, ‘Ancient Records of Sunspots and Auroras in the Far East and the Variation of the Period of Solar Activity’, Proceedings of the Imperial Academy (Tokyo), 9, 293-296  (1933).

17.  Bravonius  (Florentius) Wigorniensis, Chronicon ex Chronicis, Typis Wechaliensis apud Claudium, Frankfort, 1601.

18.  William Stubbs, ed., Gervase of Canterbury, The Chronicle of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I, Rolls Series No.73, Longman & Co., 1879.

19.  John G. Cramer, ‘Wormholes and Time Machines’, Analog CIX, 6, 124-128  (June 1989);  ‘More About Wormholes – To the Stars in No Time’, Analog, CX, 6, 99-103  (May 1990);  ‘The Quantum Physics of Teleportation’, Analog CXIII, 14, 111-115  (Dec. 1993);  Thomas Donaldson, ‘The Holes of Space-Time’, Analog, CXIII, 8 & 9, 122-135  (July 1993);  Michael Morris, Kip Thorne, Ulvi Yurtsever, Physical Review Letters, 61, 13, 1446-1449  (26th September, 1988);  John Gribbin, ‘Time Machines, Wormholes and the Casimir Effect’, New Scientist, 120, 1634, 31  (15th October, 1988);  Ian Stewart, ‘The Real Physics of Time Travel’, Analog CXIV, 1 & 2, 106-130  (Jan. 1994).

20.  George Lord Lyttelton, The History of the Life of King Henry the Second, and of the Age in which He Lived, In Five Books, (6 vols.), J. Dodsley, London, 1769.

21.  For the detailed tracing of the de Calna and Barre family histories, I had to make multiple searches through what I called the ‘haunted wing’ of Glasgow University Library:  nine huge cases of court and tax records  (Curia Rolls, Pipe Rolls, Close Rolls, etc)  not then listed on the library’s computer catalogue, whose editing and publication was begun by a parliamentary commission appointed by George III, continued by the Records Office, and still continues under the auspices of such bodies as the Pipe Rolls Society and the Seldon Society.  This chapter of my book alone has over 150 references.

22.  Derral Mulholland & Odile Calame, ‘Lunar Crater Giordano Bruno’, Science 199, 875-877  (24th Feb. 1978);  Jack B. Hartung, ‘Was the Formation of a 20-KM-Diameter Impact Crater on the Moon Observed on June 18, 1178?’, Meteoritics, 11, 3, 187-194  (Sept. 30, 1976).

23.  Henry Richards, ed., Chronica Majora of Roger de Wendover & Matthew Paris, (7 vols.), Rolls Series No.57, Longmans & Co., 1883.

Children from the Sky, a speculative interpretation of a mediaeval mystery – the Green Children of Woolpit, by Duncan Lunan  (Mutus Liber, 2012), is available from bookshops or through Amazon.  For details of it and of Duncan’s other books, see his website,

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