Many of us grew up with the fairytale Snow White: the beautiful princess, the evil stepmother, seven dwarfs, a poisoned apple and a handsome prince who saves the day and proves that love will conquer all.

It began as a rather macabre tale by the Brothers Grimm … until Disney took over the storytelling and made the story as saccharine and wholesome as could be, reports

For example, in the original fairytale, the Queen wants proof that Snow White is dead so she requests the hunter bring her Snow White's internal organs. Why? So she can eat them and become the most beautiful woman in the land.

There's no such scene in the world of Disney.


But there's another story behind the fairytale that was long rumoured to be based on a true story.

And, like the fairytale, it's all about a beautiful young girl who grew up in a castle.

It was 294 years ago this month that the "real" Snow White was born and, just weeks ago, the Diocesan Museum in Bamberg, Germany displayed the newly restored gravestone of Maria Sophia von Erthal.

She was widely believed to be the original inspiration behind one of the most famous fairytales of all time. But did she live happily ever after?

Not exactly.

'Snow White' is believed to be based on Maria Sophia von Erthal. Photo / Supplied
'Snow White' is believed to be based on Maria Sophia von Erthal. Photo / Supplied
The 1.6 metres high 'magic mirror'. Photo / Spessart Museum Lohr Castle
The 1.6 metres high 'magic mirror'. Photo / Spessart Museum Lohr Castle


Shortly after their marriage, von Erthal gave his wife a magnificent gift — a "magic mirror" which was 1.6 metres high and covered in intricate decorations. According to Dr Bartels, the mirror was made by von Erthal's own company "Mirror Manufacture" around 1720 and can be viewed today in the Spessart Museum.

The museum insists it's the very mirror that inspired the Brothers Grimm to give it a pivotal role in their famous fairytale. Interestingly the mirror on display in the museum carries the inscription "Amour propre" (French for "pride").

If your memory needs a push, role of the talking mirror in the fairytale sealed Snow White's fate.


The mirror is, ultimately, the source of truth.

When the evil Queen gazed into the glass and asked, "Who is the fairest in the land?" the mirror would always reply, "My Queen, you are the fairest in the land."

But, when Snow White turned seven and became a great beauty, the mirror tells the Queen, "You are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you."

The mirror's truth-bomb sparked rage in the Queen who was determined to kill her beautiful stepdaughter so she could, once again, lay claim to the title "the fairest of them all".

'Schneewittchen' ('Snow White') in an illustration by von Carl Offterdinger from the late 19th Century. Photo / Supplied
'Schneewittchen' ('Snow White') in an illustration by von Carl Offterdinger from the late 19th Century. Photo / Supplied


The Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm) wrote Snow White in 1812 but the story didn't reach international audiences until Disney's groundbreaking animated film in 1937.

As far as we know, Maria Sophia's life under the gaze of her domineering stepmother was nothing quite like the nightmare of the fairytale. There's no evidence that there was a huntsman trying to kill her for her organs to feed to the Queen.

But, according to Dr Bartels, Maria Sophia's life would not have been terribly easy.

"Presumably the hard reality of life for Maria Sophia under this woman was recast as a fairy story by the Brothers Grimm," Dr Bartels said.

Whether there were any dwarfs in Maria Sophia's life isn't really known. However, it's been said that only "small statured men" were able to work at the nearby mines of Bieber.

According to Bartels, there were other similarities between Maria Sophia's life and the story of Snow White.

Illustration of 'small statured men'. Photo / Supplied
Illustration of 'small statured men'. Photo / Supplied

Maria Sophia's father owned the mirror factory and Lohr was well known for its glassware and mirrors. The scary forest that features in the fairytale could have been based on a forest on the outskirts of Lohr that was known to be home to wild animals, as well as robbers waiting for victims to walk off the beaten track.

The Brothers Grimm wrote about Snow White running across seven hills before reaching the seven dwarf's cottage; the dwarfs worked in a mine and, just outside Lohr is a disused mine that can be reached by travelling over seven hills.

As for the origins of the poisoned apple, Bartels claims Lohr has many orchards and she managed to find out exactly which plant the poison might have come from — the Atropa belladonna/Black Cherry, which is said to have an anaesthetic effect that might have caused Snow White's temporary death.

Portrait of the Grimm Brothers. Photo / Getty Images
Portrait of the Grimm Brothers. Photo / Getty Images


Maria Sophia died in 1796 and her gravestone was kept in a church in Bamberg. But, when the church was knocked down, it was taken to a hospital which had been founded by Maria Sophia's brother.

The gravestone was removed once again in the 1970s and looked after by a local family before it was donated to the Diocesan Museum in Bamberg.

The museum's director, Holger Kempkens, told the BBC the Brothers Grimm lived just 50km from Lohr am Main and were known to make literature out of the stories they heard from local people.

"There are indications — though we cannot prove it for sure — that Sophia was the model for Snow White. Today when you make a film about a historic person there is also fiction in it. So in this case I think there is a historic basis, but there are also fictional elements," Kempkens said.

Sadly Maria Sophia's life did not end very well. There was no magical kiss, and no handsome prince to rescue her. Following an accident, she went blind and died in a convent at the age of 71.

Restoration workers at the museum recently managed to reveal the inscription on her marble gravestone. It reads: "The noble heroine of Christianity: here she rests after the victory of Faith, ready for transfigured resurrection."