The sordid case of Margarete von Waldeck

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2snow.jpgThey say every single fairy story has some part of true- and even very dark cases can be the inspiration for beautiful tales.

So that would mean that the fate of a girl whose dad dies and leaves her with a hateful stepmother and two bitches for stepsisters can easily be related to Cinderella’s misfortune.


Or the somber story of a beautiful young girl who is sent away from her home because her wickedly jealous stepmother hates her, for example could inspire Snow white’s tale.


The latter character is fascinating because she is said to have existed.


Indeed, in his book Schneewittchen: Marchen oder Wahrheit? (Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale?) - German scholar, Eckhard Sander alleges that many of the components to the tale can be found in the real life story of the countess Margarete von Waldeck (1553-1554).

She was a strikingly attractive young woman and the daughter of Philip IV, the German Count von Waldeck-Wildungen. She grew up in the town Waldeck-Wildungen. Her family owned several copper mines where most workers were small children called “dwarfs” because they were stunted in their growth by malnutrition and the horrid working conditions.

When she was 16, Margarete who had a problematic relationship with her stepmother was forced to leave her home. She was sent to live at the court in Brussels where she attracted the attention of young prince Phillip II of Spain. They became lovers and Philip hoped to marry her, much to the displeasure of her stepmother, who hated her, and Philip’s father, the King of Spain for political reasons. Indeed, Philip II was destined to inherit the kingdom from Charles V and though Margarete was a countess, their union held no real political clout.

So a plot was made to get Margarete out of the way and ended the relationship in a violent manner. She was poisoned, and who ever did it, made it look like an illness. However the handwriting of her last will, (written shortly before her death), shows evidence of tremor (a trembling symptomatic of poisoning).


The life of Margarete was cut short at age 21 and the perpetrator was never found. Though it couldn’t have been her stepmother, who was already dead.

It is said that at that time, a man from Margarete’s hometown was arrested for giving poisoned apples to children who he believed had stolen from him. Sander thinks that the Grimm Brothers knew of this incident and added it to the fairy tale we all know

This is a very poignant case and I’m sure it may have captured the popular imagination, or lead to several folktales. However to the question whether Margarete was the inspiration for Snow White I can’t answer a definite “yes”. 

Publié dans The friday chronicle

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