The Real Snow White

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The poignant tale about a beautiful young woman whose life was cut mysteriously short may have been the inspiration for the folktale Snow White, written by The Brothers Grimm.  Scholars have uncovered parallels between the legendary Snow White and Margarete Von Waldeck (1533-1554).  Countess Margarete was the daughter of Philip IV, Count von Waldeck-Wildungen.  Like Snow White, Margarete had tempered relationship with her stepmother.

Margarete grew up in the town of Bad Wildungen where small children worked in copper mines owned by her brother.  The children became known as dwarfs.  They were bent and crippled from malnourishment and the terrible working conditions of the mines.  Most died before reaching the age of 20.  Another parallel is that of the man in Bad Wildungen who was caught poisoning apples in order to get even with children who were stealing from his property.  This poison apple story made it into the fairy tale.

At the age of 16, Margarete was sent to live at court in Brussels.  There she attracted the attention of a young prince, Phillip II of Spain.  It is said that Margarete had intense beauty and that she had blond hair.  The tale of Snow White, of course, expounds on her black hair, but the earlier version of Grimms book (in 1808) states that Snow White’s hair was “yellow.”  The young Spanish nobleman and Margarete fell in love, much to the anger and fears of her stepmother who hated her and the King of Spain, Phillip’s father.  A plot was made to end the relationship.   It is believed the Spanish secret police were ordered to poison Margarete, making it look as if she had fallen ill, in order to put an end to the political inconvenience the marriage would have created.

Margarete died at the age of 21.  The handwriting of her will, written shortly before her death, show evidence of tremor, no doubt caused by the poisoning.  The perpetrator was never exposed, but it could not have been her “evil” stepmother, who was already dead at the time.

The tale of Snow White has always inspired me – the Disney version, which I do not like, is plumped with fun and happiness, but the real tale is sad and poignant, riddled with mystery, and I believe probably shouldn’t end with the happy ending that fairy tales demand. It is more a tragic myth, a girl who can’t escape the immence ambitions of a powerful and psychotic woman.  Elements of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy may apply here also.

Artwork: by illustrator Angela Barrett for the beautifully designed book, Snow White, by Josephine Poole.

Sources: Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia and Hartforth.com/Snow White

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5 thoughts on “The Real Snow White

  1. While Mararethe Von Waldecke was propably the inspiration for snow-white, the one female fairy-tale character scholar Marta Tartar call the most queseential fairy tale herione of them all even suprassing Beauty from Beauty and the Beast, other elements add to this most powerfull of all the Grimm’s brothers collected tale. The pagan celtic goddess of beauty was identified with three colors:red, white and black(white as snow,red as blood and black as ebony. A thirteenth century german poem talks about dwarves being wise and crafty mining the mountains for precious jewels and gold which may account for why the grimm’s version used the rhineland mountain range “The siebenbirge(the seven mountains also the site of where Siegfried slayed the dragon) across the Rhine from the old capital of west germany Bonn, and oldest national park in Germany as the site of the story rather Margarethe’s homeland of Waldeckerland. A short story published in Italy in the 1600’s in “penterome’ tells of Lisa a lovely seven year old girl who aroused her aunts jealousy, causing the aunt to kill her with a poisoned comb. Lisa slept in a locked room for roughly seven years in a coffin that grew as she did and was revived when her Uncle discovered her and removed the comb. North of Kassel in the German state of Hesse is Schloss Sababurg, a modest fourteenth century castle that is often regarged as “Sleeping Beauty’s castle.” The much larger and more magestic 9th century Waldeck Castle one of Margarethe’s father’s residents could then be rightfully regarded as Snow White’s castle. Best Wishes on future folklore studies; in my mind Snow White is easily the most poweful and complex of the more popular fairy tales and because of this reason it is the only fairy tale that competes with Cinderella in terms of it’s popularity.

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  2. I truly love your writing and insight. I think the study of fairy tales is fascinating indeed. I do believe that these stories have a certain basis in fact, as historical events and happenings were often transmitted by word of mouth and often suffered alterations as they were transmitted. Throughout the generations these stories were used to teach children basic moral principles. Have you noticed that in many cultures you find similar stories, for example there is a Chinese and Korean version of Cinderella.

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