Snow White’s Origins

Public Domain

Schneewittchen Franz Juttner - 1910

Snow White is a German fairy tale which was known across much of Europe. Now it is one of the most famous fairy tales worldwide. It was published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 in the first edition of their collection, simply titled: Grimms’ Fairy Tales. In German the tale was titled Sneewittchen. Sneewittchen went through various revisions until 1854. At first it had been regarded as a fictional tale, until research suggested otherwise. 

Margaretha von Waldeck


AxelHH at German Wikipedia / Public domain:

The story of Margaretha von Waldeck is first real life story that may have inspired the tale of Snow White. In 1994, the German historian Eckhard Sander published Snow White: Fairy Tale or True Story? He claimed he had uncovered an account that may have inspired the Grimm fairy tale. 

Margaretha von Waldeck was the daughter of Philip IV, Count of Waldeck-Wildungen, born 1493 and died 1574, and his first wife, Margaret Cirksena, born 1500 and died 1537, daughter of Edzard I, Count of East Frisia. According to the Bad Wildungen city documents, she was a famous beauty. From the year 1539 she had a very strict stepmother, Katharina von Hatzfeld (1510 -1546). At that time Margaretha lived in Weilburg at the court of Philip III, Count of Nassau-Weilburg. In 1545, she travelled through Siebengebirge (seven hills) to live with her mother’s brother Johann Cirksena at Valkenburg castle, which is now known as Limburg in the Netherlands. Later in 1549 she was sent by her father to the Brussels court of Mary of Hungary, to the governor of the Habsburg Netherlands and sister of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Margaretha’s presence at court was meant to improve the relations with the emperor and help secure the release of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, who had been imprisoned in Brussels for his role in the Schmalkaldic War.

However, the situation in court became complicated as several high ranking men sought the hand of  Margaretha, including Lamoral, Count of Egmont. He arrived in court from Spain in 1549.  As she was Lutheran and Lamoral Catholic her parents refused his request to marry Margaretha. However, as most of Netherlands was Catholic at that time it wasn’t a viable excuse. It would seem that her father wished for her to marry for political connections in Netherlands. A move to Spain with Lamoral, would not suit his political agenda.
Margaretha died at the age of 21 in March 1554. The three surviving letter she sent to her father show that her health had steadily declined over the time. In the Waldeck chronicles it was suggested that she had been poisoned. Around the time of her death, an old man had been caught giving out apples laced with poisonous nightshade to children. However, since her father’s second wife died in 1546 and he only remarried again in October 1554, her stepmother was never suspected in the alleged poisoning.

Margaretha’s  father owned several copper minds, many of the workers were children, giving reference to the seven dwarfs. The child workers lived in groups of about 20 in a single room house. The residence of the dwarfs has been suggested to be the former mining village of Bergfreiheit, which is now a district of Bad Wildungen, which calls itself the Snow White Village. 


Maria Sophia von Erthal

Another real life tale is that of Maria of Maria Sophia von Erthal, who was born on the 15th June 1729 in Lohr am Main in Bavaria, Germany.  She was the daughter of Prince Philipp Christoph von Erthal, a landowner and his wife, Baroness von Bettendorff. After the death of his wife the prince married Claudia Elisabeth Maria von Venningen, Countess of Rechenstein. It was said that she disliked her stepchildren. The castle where they lived, which is now a museum, was home to a mirror that was famous for its smooth and even surface. Apparently this is something that was uncommon in that period. They referred to it as the “talking mirror,” because “it always spoke the truth” (this mirror is also in the museum). The mirror was manufactured in 1720 in Lohr. The left side of the mirror has the words “self love” etched into it. It had been in the house at the time Maria’s stepmother lived there.


The dwarfs are again linked to a mining town, Bieber, located west of Lohr and lays amongst seven mountains. The mine tunnels could only be accessed by short miners, they often wore bright red hoods. The glass coffin may be linked to the regions famous glassworks and the poisoned apple’s association may be with the deadly nightshade poison that grows in abundance in the Lohr.

Greek and Roman Mythology

KHIONE (Chione) was a nymph of Mount Haimos (Haemus) in Thrake (north of Greece). She was a daughter of Boreas, god of the north-wind, and Oreithyia, the lady of mountain gales. Khione is thought to be the goddess of snow (khiôn).She became by Poseidon the mother of Eumolpus, and in order to conceal the event, she threw the boy into the sea; but the child was saved by Poseidon

Scholar Graham Anderson compares the story of Snow White to the Roman legend of Chione, recorded in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The name Chione means "Snow" in Greek and, in the story, she is described as the most beautiful woman in the land, so beautiful that the gods Apollo and Mercy both fell in love with her. Mercury put her to sleep with the touch of his caduceus.