Is the story of Snow White based on real people? Can we trace a birthplace of 'real' Snow White? There are more and more proofs for that.

But there's also a catch - there are actually several candidates for the role of the woman who served as a model for a famous fairy tale by Brothers Grimm which was so successfully adapted for the silver screen by Walt Disney.

Snow White by Roland Risse (1835)

First, we should start with a roman legend of Chione from Ovid's Metamorphoses, a collection of more than 250 myths where we can find countless familiar plots including the one resembling the fairy tale about the Snow White. The title character from Chione was described as so extremely beautiful that two gods (Apollo and Mercury) fell in love with her. As we can expect from ancient gods, they both raped her what convinced Chione she is the most beautiful woman in the world, even more than Diana. That was a fatal mistake because Diana simply shot her with an arrow through her tongue and eliminated the beauty competitor. It's interesting to note how Chione died - through the mouth, just like Snow White who ate the infamous apple. The reason for her death was a boastful statement about her beauty just like we can hear from the magic mirror in the story.

The Death of Chione by Nicolas Poussin (1822)

One more detail - Chione gave birth to two kids. although they were twins, they had different fathers, one god each. In the painting below we can see them with Chione's father who was transformed into a hawk after his daughter's funeral (remember the importance of birds who visited Snow white's coffin?). Don't they resemble the famous scene of dwarfs at the supposed death Snow White?

One more detail - Chione gave birth to two kids. Although they were twins, they had different fathers, one god each. In the painting below we can see them with Chione's father who was transformed into a hawk after his daughter's funeral (remember the importance of birds who visited Snow white's coffin?). Don't they resemble the famous scene of dwarfs at the supposed death Snow White?

The Death of Chione by Nicolas Poussin (1823)

Second, even stronger candidate for the title of real Snow White, is Margaretha von Waldeck (1533–1554), daughter of Philip IV, Count of Waldeck-Wildungen and Margaret Cirksena who died when was Margaretha only three or four years old. Her father remarried in 1539 to Katharina von Hatzfeld who was a very strict stepmother. Margaretha was sent to her uncle Johan Cirksena (by her mother's side), who had a castle in the area of today's Netherland. Documents show she was sent by her father to Brussels in 1549 where she lived in the court of Mary of Hungary.

Margaretha von Waldeck

It's important to note her stepmother Katharina was already dead by then. Anyway, life wasn't easy for Margaretha in Brussels. Her beauty attracted several suitors. Political and religious obstacles prevented her to find true love (the most famous was Spanish prince who was Catholic and she was Lutheran) and there are even speculations she was poisoned. Margaretha died being only 21 years old. It' probably fair to add Margaretha's father owned several copper mines (gold is a byproduct of most copper mines) what makes the real story about Margaretha Waldeck even closer to the fairy tale about the Snow White and seven dwarfs. By the way, in mines worked a lot of children and people of short stature.

Picture from Lord Ashley's report in 1842 caused ban of working for all children under 10 in mines

Low height was preferred in mine shafts, due to poor living conditions many children never fully developed, and - another similarity with the fairy tales - it was often a great number of them lived in a small house with only one room - up to 20 under the same roof. But, despite the paintings portraying her with dark hair (all dated many years after her death), documents show Margaretha von Waldeck had blond hair. Just like Snow White in older versions ('yellow hair and ebony black eyes'), before Brothers Grimm rewrote and adapted it.

Another strong contestant is Maria Sophia von Erthal from Lohr am Main. She lived in the 18th century and died less than 20 years before the Grimms published the first edition of their famous collection. This means her story was still fresh in the collective memory of people living in the neighborhood (family Grimm lived just about 50 kilometers from Lohr). The mixture of the old legend and real events was very possible.

Maria Sophia von Erthal

So what was the story of Maria Sophia von Erthal? She lost her mother as a kid, her father remarried and her stepmother hated her. So far everything fits.

Sophia's father Philipp Christoph von Erthal owned a factory of glass and mirrors what rings some bells too. Even more - they had a large mirror with engraved saying 'the mirror never lies' on the castle which is a well-known museum today (Spessart) too. The mirror is still on display.

Bad Wildungen as one of possible birth-places of real Snow-White

And there was a mine in the neighborhood, which could be reached if you crossed seven hills. A lot of children wearing protective cloaks with light-colored (for better visibility in darkness) hoods worked there. The town is known for its dense forest. For hundreds of years, people feared it for dangerous animals and robbers who lived there.

Sophia's gravestone was recently donated to the Diocesan Museum of Bamberg.


How about the red hot iron shoe given to the queen at the end of Grimms' Snow White?

(credit: Theodor Hosemann)

They are very likely an echo of one of the cruel devices invented for torturing the witches in Medieval Europe (still being hunted in times of brothers Grimm, actually). Iron shoes were placed on the feet of the suspect in order to convince him or her to betray his or her conspirators. While foot has a lot of pain nerves, the victim of such torture can stay alive for pretty long time - enough to tell everything the torturers expected to hear.

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