Tag Archives: snow white

Was the Real Snow White a 16th-Century Countess?

Grimm's Fairy Tales Book Cover

Most of us associate the origin of Snow White with Willhelm and Jacob Grimm’s nineteenth-century publication of Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales). Some assume  the brothers composed the volume of fairy tales, but most tales in the book were hundreds of years old by the time the Brother’s Grimm’s compiled them. Some stories, like Cinderella, were over a thousand years old.

I often wonder what inspired these tales. In a post about Snow White, author Kate Forsyth says there may be upwards of 400 versions of Snow White and the oldest is a”medieval Norse saga written by the 12th-century poet Snorri Sturluson, which sets the tale in the time of Harald Fairhair in the 9th century.”  While the saga and the German tale share some similarities (beautiful girl, a prince falls in love, she dies), the two stories are very different. The Norse version has no poisoning, no apples, no wicked stepmother, and no dwarves. So if the Norse tale is indeed the origin, how did the other elements end up in the German version of the tale?  Is it just the product of an unknown storyteller’s imagination, or is the German fairy tale somewhat rooted in historical fact?

278622-margarete-von-waldeck

Margarete von Waldeck (1513-1534) may have been the origin of Grimm’s Snow White.

According to German scholar Eckhard Sander, Grimm’s Snow White the latter is true. In his book,  Schneewittchen: Marchen oder Wahrheit? (Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale?), Sander argues that the famous fairytale is based on the life of Countess Margarete Von Waldeck

Margarete was daughter to Count Phillip von Waldeck-Wildungen and stepdaughter to Katherina of Hatzefeld, whom Margarete did not get along with.  At the age of sixteen, Margarete’s father sent her away to Brussels, where she attracted the attention of Phillip II, a Spanish Hapsburg prince who later became king of Spain and Portugal.  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.

Portrait Phillip II of Spain Hapsburg

A love affair between Phillip II of Spain  Margarete von Waldeck may have resulted in her untimely death.

According to Sander, Margarete did not die of some unknown illness but was poisoned. On her deathbed, it’s said that  Margarete composed her will with a tremored-hand, a sign of poisoning though I think the fear of death alone might cause a woman so young to be a little shaky when writing her own will.

So let’s assume Margarete was poisoned. Who did it?   Her “wicked” stepmother died before Margarete, so she couldn’t have been the culprit. Besides, there were others who had more to gain in killing Margarete. Sander believes the Spanish poisoned Margarete to keep her from marrying the future king.While it is unlikely that the weapon of choice was an apple, there seems to be some evidence that a man living in Wildungen gave poisoned apples to children whom he suspected were stealing from him. This may be how poisoned apples ended up in the German fairy tale.

children coal mine

Sander believes children working in coal mines were the basis of Snow White’s seven dwarves.

But what about those seven dwarves? Where did they come from?  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 Brother 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 brothers recorded, and we now know as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

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 brothers recorded, and we now know as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Whether Sander’s theory is right or not remains a mystery. But for me, Sander’s research on Snow White’s origins is every bit as compelling as the German fairy tale.

profile picAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and history blogger. Her debut novel The Fairytale Keeper, made it to the quarter-final round in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The sequel–The Countess’s Captive—was published earlier last year.  She is currently working on the third book in her series.

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And if you happen to be a historical fiction reader who loves a strong female voice and gritty Medieval settings, check out The Fairytale Keeper series. (When a storyteller’s daughter attempts to avenge her mother, she gets caught in the cross-hairs of a power struggle between kings and kingmakers. The conflict gives rise to some of the greatest stories ever told: Grimm’s Fairy Tales.) Publisher’s Weekly calls The Fairytale Keeper a “resonant tale set late in the 13th century…with unexpected plot twists. An engaging story of revenge.”

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The Countdown Begins

It’s hard to believe that the release for the second book in The Fairytale Keeper series is only eight months away.  If you didn’t know, the book has a tentative title, The Fairest of Them All.   At this point,  I am halfway done with writing and beginning work on revisions.  For me, this is the perfect time to start revising.  It’s quite fun to read parts of the book that I’d written months ago.  They feel so new. Thankfully, I am very pleased with the first chapter.  For those of you who know me personally, I am no good at keeping surprises.  I am absolutely dying to post the first chapter of The Fairest of Them All today!  But I think I will be a good little author and wait until after the entire book goes off for editing. For those of you who are dying to have a sneak peek into The Fairest of Them All, visit my Pinterest page, which holds clues as to what will happen in the next installment of The Fairytale Keeper series.

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:

Review By Lulu at The Bookworm

Another well-written review by Lulu the Bookworm with an excerpt, too.  Check it out at http://lulu-bookaddict.blogspot.com/2012/06/review-for-fairytale-keeper-avenging.html

ONE MORE DAY!!!

The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen will be officially released at midnight tonight!

Review by The Book Witch

In my opinion, Jen at Library of a Book Witch writes intelligent reviews and this girl KNOWS her fairy tales. Click here and see what she has to say about The Fairytale Keeper.