In 1533, Philip IV, Count of Waldeck and Margaret of East Frisia had a daughter (their sixth child) and named her Margaret. They went on to have three more children together, but in 1537, the countess died. Two years later, the count married a woman named Katharina of Hatzfeld.
Katharina didn’t much like Margaret, and by the time the girl was seventeen her stepmother forced her out of the house. She moved to Brussels, hoping, I’m sure, to find some peace.
She might have found it, but if so, it wouldn’t last.
By the time she was twenty-one she was dead–her friends thought the illness so mysterious that it just had to be poison. The handwriting on her Last Will and Testament was shaky enough to indicate tremors… a symptom of poisoning.
So, let’s go over what we have here: a noble woman, an evil step-mother, a poisoned girl.
Does that remind you of something?
If it sounds like Snow White to you, you’re not alone.
Is Margaret von Waldeck the real Snow White?
In 1994, a man named Eckhard Sander published Schneewittchen: Märchen oder Wahrheit? (Snow White: Fairy Tale or Truth?). In it, he claimed to have uncovered the real Snow White, our good friend Margaret.
Except Margaret’s tale doesn’t end happily ever after. Margaret’s tale ended when she fell in love with a Spanish Habsburg prince who would later become Philip II. Someone apparently didn’t like it, and she was dead soon after. And in this real-life story, it’s not the evil stepmother who killed Margaret–she was already dead years earlier. Who was it? Was it the King of Spain, Philip’s father? Or Margaret’s father? We’ll probably never know (though now I really want to know).
There’s a glaring error in this theory that, to me, totally debunks it. And I haven’t seen other people talk about it. In the Grimm’s original retelling of this folktale, written in 1812, it’s not Snow White’s stepmother who tries to poison her… but her mother. The removal of four letters s.t.e.p. make the tale even more chilling. It’s her mother who wonders if she is fairer than Snow White. It’s her own mother who tries to poison her.
This is not the case for Margaret. However tragic her death may have been–and who knows, she could have died of something other than poison–she didn’t have to go through the indignity of her own mother killing her.
But there’s yet another possibility for the real Snow White. Her name is: Maria Sophia von Erthal.
Is Maria Sophia Margarethe Catharina von Erthal the real Snow White?Maria was born to Philipp Christoph von Erthal in 1729 and, like Margaret, her mother died when she was still young. Philipp married again to a woman named Claudia Elisabeth, who, by all accounts, was a domineering woman who favored her own children over her stepchildren.
But the parallels end there. It doesn’t seem as if Maria was banished or ran. In fact, Maria seems to drop out of most accounts altogether, which is sad. The story isn’t really about her. She’s just a vehicle.
The real character in this story, the one that possibly did inspire the “real” Snow White, in a way, is the location, the setting.
The Spessart Museum in Germany has a nice little PDF on their theories about Maria Sophia. You can read the full version here, taking it with a grain of tourist-grabbing salt, but here’s the gist of their argument that they hold claim to the one true Snow White:
- Maria was born in Lohr am Main. In the 1700s in Lohr, there was a company that produced elaborately decorated “talking mirrors.” These mirrors were known to “speak the truth” and were made with uplifting sayings etched on them. It is thought by some that Maria’s father gave one of these mirrors to her stepmother.
- The Spessart region, which contained Lohr, was full of mines… mines where they would send small children into tight places. The implication is that these children could have been the seven dwarfs. That, or, the PDF claims, the lower classes of Spessart folk had a diminished stature because of malnourishment.
- And the poisoned apple? There are apple orchards everywhere in the the region, of course.
What’s most interesting to me, is that the Brothers Grimm were from Hanau, Germany, which is right at the edge of the Spessart region. Could these elements, or the mood of the region, have inspired this tale? Absolutely. Could Maria or Margaret have been the “original” Snow White… probably not.