The Real Snow White: A 16th Century Countess?

Portrait of Margarete von Waldeck

Most of us associate the origins of Snow White with Willhelm and Jacob Grimm’s 19th century publication of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) which is a volume of German folklore collected by the Grimm brothers and not actually composed by the two.  So where did this tale actually come from?   Is it really just the product of an unknown story-teller’s imagination or was this famous fair-faced maiden based on historical fact?   German scholar Eckhard Sander presumes in his book Schneewittchen: Marchen oder Wahrheit? (Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale?) that the real Snow White was in fact Countess Margarete Von Waldeck.

Margarete was daughter to Count Phillip von Waldeck-Wildungen and step-daughter to Katherina of Hatzefeld, whom Margarete did not get along with.  At the age of sixteen, Margarete was sent away to Wildungen, Brussels where she met and fell in love with Phillip the II, who would later become king of Spain.   A marriage between the Spanish prince and German countess was seen as politically disadvantageous by many and Margarete’s untimely death all-too-conveniently ended the affair.

According to Sander, Margarete did not die of some unknown illness, but was poisoned by the Spanish secret police to keep her from marrying the future king.  However, her “wicked” stepmother couldn’t have been the culprit since she was dead before Margarete’s death.  While it is unlikely that the weapon of choice was an apple, poisoned apples were given out by a man living in Wildungen who didn’t want children stealing his fruit.  And as for the seven dwarves, Maragerete’s brother owned copper mines in Wildungen which employed children who worked twelve hour days.  The children grew crooked and crippled from the work. Their hair grayed prematurely and most were dead before the age of  twenty.  Thus, they looked much like the dwarves from the Brothers Grimm’s tale.  According to Sander, the many parts of the story from this particular region were told and retold until they became the tale that the Grimm’s brothers recorded and we now know as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales.  To follow Andrea Cefalo and hear more about The Fairytale Keeper series, please visit:

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2 thoughts on “The Real Snow White: A 16th Century Countess?

  1. Pingback: Snow White / Mary Margaret: Who was she? « The Rose of Europe

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