Is Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Based On a True Story?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Disney‘s first animated film which helped catapult the studio to becoming what it is today. Including its re-releases, the film has grossed the equivalent of $1.2 billion!

Some people might know that the cartoon was based on a Grimm fairytale, but did you know that the character of Snow White might have been based on a real historical figure? Read on to learn about the women who historians think may have served as the inspirations for Disney‘s first princess.

Disney’s version of ‘Snow White’

Snow White
Snow White | Disney

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released in theaters all the way back in the year 1937 and it was the first-ever animated film created by Walt Disney. It depicts a lonely princess named Snow White, who lives alone with her evil and vain Stepmother.

The Stepmother is jealous of Snow White and asks her Magic Mirror every day who is the “fairest one of all.” One day, the Mirror responds that Snow White is the fairest in the land; raging with jealousy, the Stepmother orders Snow White to be taken into the forest and killed. The Huntsman ordered to kill Snow White can’t bring himself to do so, so she survives, and ends up living in a cottage in the woods with seven dwarves. 

From there, the story involves a fairy-tale budding romance with Prince Charming, and more attempted murder (this time via poisoned apple) on behalf of the Stepmother, who finds out that Snow White is still alive. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a happy ending; the Stepmother falls to her death, and Snow White is saved by Prince Charming’s kiss.

Everyone lives happily ever after, dwarfs included. Interspersed with sweet tunes that won the film an Academy Award nomination, it’s not hard to see how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been winning hearts for almost a century.

‘Snow White’ was based on a Grimm fairy tale

It’s pretty common knowledge that Snow White was based on the fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. The storyline of Disney’s version stays true to the original tale almost the entire way through.

There are a couple of notable differences: first, rather than being awoken from her poisoned slumber by Prince Charming’s kiss, in the Grimm brothers’ version, the Prince has Snow White’s coffin carried to his castle by a servant. Depending on the edition of the tale, the poisoned apple becomes dislodged from Snow White’s throat when the servant drops the coffin or becomes so enraged by his duties that he slaps Snow White in the face. Either way, her life is saved.

The second big difference is that in the Grimm fairy tale version, the Stepmother meets an arguably harsher fate than falling to her death. She’s instead invited to Snow White and Prince Charming’s wedding, where the couple force her to wear iron-hot shoes and dance to her death. That’s a pretty “Grimm” ending!

The true story behind ‘Snow White’

It’s important to note that the true story behind Snow White is unproven, but there are a few theories. One theory says that the character of Snow White was based on Margaretha Von Waldeck, a German countess who was born in 1533. According to history, Von Waldeck’s Stepmother, Katharina of Hatzfeld, also didn’t like her and may have even killed her. After Von Waldeck displeased her parents by having a love affair with Philip II of Spain, she suddenly died, likely of poisoning, at only 21 years old.

Another theory is that Snow White is based on Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina Freifräulein von Erthal, a noblewoman from the 16th century. Historians say that von Erthal also had a stepmother who didn’t like her. The theory is made even stronger by the fact that allegedly, von Erthal’s father gifted her stepmother with a mirror that was said to be magical and talked.

We may never know if Disney’s Snow White was really based on a true story, but there are many historians who say that there’s a strong chance she was!