Some Fairy Tales Were Borrowed From Real-Life Historical Accounts. Meet the real-life Snow White: Margaretha Von Waldeck

Fareeha Arshad
We don’t realize that many of the fairy-tales we heard as children were actually derived from real-life stories from historyPublic Domain, Source: The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame/Wikimedia Commons
There is something about the fairytales — their storyline, heroes, and villains, you can’t seem to get enough of them. It’s as though you have put up a crazy fairytale lens through which you see the world, even today, long after you have grown up.

These stories have become such a massive part of our culture and traditions that most of the time, we forget to question where they originated from, who were the real-life heroes of these stories, and what inspired them. Though Grimm Brothers are often attributed to these stories, little do we realize that some of them could have been borrowed from real-life accounts of people from the past.

Margaretha Von Waldeck: The real-life Snow White
Portrait of Katharina von HarzfeldA painting by Hermann tom Ring, Public Domain, Source: Wikidata

The first time Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs appeared during the 1800s, written by the Grimm Brothers. However, when you look back in history, you will see that the real Snow White was born long before the story appeared in print. The German Countess, Margarete von Waldeck, was born to Philip IV of Waldeck-Wildungen and his first wife. Like the Snow White from the story, she was an extraordinary beauty. Even as a little girl, her fair skin, dark hair, and innocent demeanour attracted everybody.

Katharina: The evil stepmother

Unfortunately, she lost her mother at a very young age and welcomed a beautiful and evil stepmother, Katharina von Herzfeld. Herzfeld was so obsessed with her beauty that Philip gave her a large mirror as her wedding gift. She loved spending long hours staring at herself in the mirror. As time went by, the children grew up to become more beautiful and more loved among their people.

However, Katharina hated them because of how much people admired her husband’s kids and how beautiful they were. Unable to deal with all the appreciation and praises any of the stepchildren gained, especially the sixteen-year-old Margaretha, Katharina sent her away to Brussels hoping that her least favourite stepdaughter would struggle at a new place and leave her in peace.

This time the knight in shining armour couldn’t save the damsel in distress

Little did Katharina know that Margaretha was as famous, if not more, in Brussels. There, she fell in love with the Prince of Spain, Philip II. However, her stepmother and the Spanish authorities were not happy with Philip’s and Margaretha’s relationship.

Every fairytale needs a good old happy ending, but there is none in this story. Instead, the twenty-one-year-old countess fell ill and never recovered; and died in 1554, still beautiful and unmarried. Most believe that she was poisoned by either of the two villains in her life: Spanish authorities or Katharina.

Also, the region where Margaretha came from was rich in copper deposits, because of which most people living there had a permanently curved spine, unable to stand straight. The people who worked in mines (co-incidentally, the Waldekcs owned seven mines!), especially children, never reached their full height because of malnutrition. Thus, the locals called them ‘dwarfs’ because of their short and bent stature.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle. I am an 8x Top Writer with 21M+ organic views on NewsBreak, Medium and Quora. Open to writing gigs. Contact me at:

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