Historia Rerum Anglicarum
William of Newburgh’s account of the green children in Historia Rerum Anglicarum, has been translated by two authors: Thomas Keightley gives a brief reference to William’s work in The Fairy Mythology (1850), and Joseph Stevenson presents a full translation of William’s account in Church Historians of England (1856).
It is William’s account of the Green Children of Woolpit that places the event as happening within the reign of King Stephen; and since there was only one King Stephen, this narrows the occurrence to happening sometime within this monarch’s nineteen year reign between 1135 and 1154 CE.
Though William of Newburgh was likely alive at the time the event is said to have occurred, he didn’t write the Historia Rerum Anglicarum until 1196, at least forty years after the green children were said to be found. It’s clear from William’s account that he was by no means an eyewitness, nor did he ever see any physical evidence of the event -- the green girl, if she existed, had apparently already passed away before William looked into the matter -- so William had only the stories of multiple people as proof anything happened. This was enough evidence to convince William, however, as he explains: “...at length I was so overwhelmed by the weight of so many and such competent witnesses, that I have been compelled to believe.”
William tells us the children were seen to emerge from one of the wolf-pits by reapers working the harvest, and they were caught shortly afterwards. He states that, over several months, both children lost the green hue to their skin and learned the local language, and that both children were baptized shortly before the boy died.
Also according to William’s account, both children were questioned about their origins; despite the fact that he never met the children, William’s account contains quotes of what the children said when questioned. Wiliam’s account is the only source for several of the details that are often mentioned in the legend. It’s the only source that gives a name for the children’s original home: according to Keightley, the children called their original home ‘St Martin’s Land’, and according to Stevenson’s translation, William states that the children said: “We are inhabitants of the land of St Martin, who is regarded with peculiar veneration in the country which gave us birth.”
William’s account is also the only source that credits the children with saying that all the people in their original home were Christians and that they had churches, and that they could see a bright country across a very large river from their original home.
On the subject of just exactly how the children traveled from St. Martin to Woolpit, William quotes the children as saying: “...we only remember this, that on a certain day, when we were feeding our father’s flocks in the fields, we heard a great sound, such as we are now accustomed to hear at St Edmund’s, when the bells are chiming; and whilst listening to the sound in admiration, we became on a sudden, as it were, entranced, and found ourselves among you in the fields where you were reaping.”
William’s account is also the only source that claims the green girl married, but there is disagreement about who and where. According to Keightley, William says she married a man from Lenna; according to Stevenson, William says she married a man at Lynne. William ends his account of the Green Children of Woolpit by asserting that there were many more strange details that the children told, but that they were “too many to particularize.” Unfortunate.