The Story Of Margaretha Von Waldeck, The Real Snow White

By | June 25, 2021

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Priscilla Presley portrayed the evil stepmother, complete with magic mirror and poisoned apple, in 'Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs' at The Savoy Hotel London in 2012. (Danny Martindale/Getty Images)

The Brothers Grimm may have been master storytellers, but like many of today's fantasy writers, evidence suggests that they borrowed from history. Specifically, their tale of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs appears to have been based on a real royal beauty.

Margaretha Von Waldeck

Margaretha von Waldeck was a German countess who was born in 1533 as the second daughter of Philip IV, Count of Waldeck-Wildungen, and his first wife. She was an exceptional beauty, with—you guessed it—fair skin and ruby lips but blonde rather than dark hair, as depicted in later versions of the story. When she was just four years old, her mother died, and shortly thereafter, Philip married the beautiful but vain and shallow Katharina von Harzfeld. According to stories, Katharina enjoyed admiring her own reflection so much that Philip gave her a large, ornate mirror as a wedding gift. Disappointingly, there's no evidence it talked.

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Portrait of Katharina von Harzfeld. (National Museum in Warsaw/Wikimedia Commons)

Out Of A Fairy Tale

Katharina resented her new husband's children with his previous wife, especially the beautiful and beloved Margaretha, so when the girl was 16 years old, her father and stepmother sent her away to find a suitable husband at the royal court of Brussels, where she proved as popular as she was at home. She and the future King Philip II of Spain fell in love, but their relationship was troubled, as Spanish authorities hoped for a more political advantageous match. Katharina, too, resented the possibility that Margaretha may surpass her in matrimonial success as well as beauty.

Luckily for them, the 21-year-old countess fell ill and soon died in 1554 of a mysterious illness. It was widely speculated that she was poisoned, either by Spanish authorities or her stepmother. Historically, the former is the most likely suspect, but the "evil stepmother" made for a better fairy tale.