King Thrusbeard Princess

King Thrushbeard

No man is good enough for this princess. Not even King Thrushbeard. One day her father is so fed up with her attitude that he gives her away in marriage to a beggar…

King Thrushbeard is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a princess who finds fault in every man, including King Thrushbeard. Her father gives her away to a beggar en with him she lives in poverty. The beggar turns out to be King Thrushbeard himself and they live happily ever after.

Complete text King Thrushbeard

A princess mocks all men

A king had a daughter who was beautiful beyond all measure, but so proud and haughty that no man was good enough for her. She sent away one after the other, ridiculing them as well.

Once the king made a great feast and invited from far and near all the young men likely to marry. They were all put in a row according to their rank and standing; first the kings, then the grand-dukes, the princes, the earls, the barons and lastly the rest of high class.

The princess was led through the ranks, but about everyone she had something to say.

One was too fat, “the wine-cask,” she said.
Another was too tall, “Long and thin has little in.”
The third was too short, “Short and thick is never quick.”
The fourth was too pale, “As pale as death.”
The fifth too red, “A fighting-cock.”
The sixth was not straight enough, “A green log dried behind the stove.”

She had something to say about every one, but she made herself especially merry over a good king who stood quite high up in the row and whose chin had grown a little crooked.

“Well,” she shouted and laughed, “he has a chin like a thrush’s beak!” From that time he got the name of King Thrushbeard.

But the old king, who saw that his daughter did nothing but mock the people and despised all the suitors who were gathered there, became very angry. He swore that she should have for her husband the very first beggar that came to his doors.

The princess is given in marriage to a beggar

A few days afterwards a fiddler came and sang beneath the windows, trying to earn a small alms. When the king heard him he said, “Let him come up.”

So the fiddler came in in his dirty, ragged clothes. He sang before the king and his daughter. When he had ended he asked for a small, small gift. The king said, “Your song has pleased me so well that I will give you my daughter as a wife.”

The princess shuddered, but the king said to her, “I have taken an oath to give you to the very first beggar and I will keep it.”

All she could say was in vain. The priest was brought, and she was wedded to the fiddler on the spot. When that was done the king said, “Now it is not proper for you, a beggar-woman, to stay any longer in my palace, you may just go away with your husband.”

If only I had taken King Thrushbeard…

The beggar-man led her out by the hand and she was obliged to walk away on foot with him. When they came to a large forest she asked, “To whom does that beautiful forest belong?”

“It belongs to King Thrushbeard; if you had taken him, it would have been yours.”

“Ah, unhappy girl that I am, if only I had taken King Thrushbeard!”

Afterwards they came to a meadow and she asked again, “To whom does this beautiful green meadow belong?”

“It belongs to King Thrushbeard; if you had taken him, it would have been yours.”

“Ah, unhappy girl that I am, if only I had taken King Thrushbeard!”

They came to a large town and she asked again, “To whom does this fine large town belong?”

“It belongs to King Thrushbeard; if you had taken him, it would have been yours.”

“Ah, unhappy girl that I am, if only I had taken King Thrushbeard!”

Living life with her beggar-husband

“It does not please me,” the fiddler said, “to hear you always wishing for another husband; am I not good enough for you?”

At last they came to a very little hut. She said, “Oh goodness! What a small house! To whom does this miserable, mean hovel belong?”

The fiddler answered, “That is my house and yours, where we shall live together.”

She had to stoop in order to go in at the low door. “Where are the servants?” said the princess.

“What servants?” answered the beggar-man; “what you wish to have done you must do yourself. Make a fire at once and set on water to cook my supper, I am quite tired.”

However the princess knew nothing about lighting fires or cooking. The beggar-man had to lend a hand himself to get anything done right. When they had finished their measly meal they went to bed, but he forced her to get up quite early in the morning in order to look after the house.

For a few days they lived in this way as well as might be. They came to the end of all their provisions and the man said, “Wife, we cannot go on any longer eating and drinking here and earning nothing. You weave baskets.”

The princess has to work

He went out, cut some willows and brought them home. She began to weave, but the tough willows wounded her delicate hands.

“I see that this will not do,” the man said; “you had better spin, perhaps you can do that better.”

She sat down and tried to spin, but the hard thread soon cut her soft fingers so that the blood ran down. “See,” said the man, “you are fit for no sort of work; I have made a bad bargain with you. Now I will try to make a business with pots and earthenware; you must sit in the marketplace and sell the ware.”

“Oh no,” she thought, “if any of the people from my father’s kingdom come to the market and see me sitting there, selling, they will mock me!”

But it was of no use, she had to yield unless she chose to die of hunger.

At first she had success, because the people were glad to buy the woman’s wares because she was good-looking. They paid her what she asked, many even gave her the money and left the pots with her as well. So they lived on what she had earned as long as it lasted, then the husband bought a lot of new crockery.

With this she sat down at the corner of the marketplace, and set it out round about her ready for sale. Suddenly there came a drunken hussar galloping along. He rode right among the pots so that they were all broken into a thousand bits. She began to weep, and did now know what to do for fear.

“No! What will happen to me?” she cried; “what will my husband say about this?”

She ran home and told him of the misfortune. “Who would seat herself at a corner of the marketplace with crockery?” he said. “Stop crying, I see very well that you cannot do any ordinary work, so I have been to our king’s palace. I have asked whether they cannot find a place for a maid in the kitchen and they have promised me to take you. In that way you will get your food for nothing.”

The princess becomes a maid in the kitchen

The princess was now a kitchen maid. She had to be at the cook’s beck and call and do the dirtiest work. In both her pockets she took a little jar which she filled with what was left. On this they survived together.

When the wedding of the king’s eldest son was celebrated, the poor woman went up and placed herself by the door of the hall to look on. All the candles were lit and people, each more beautiful than the other, entered. All was full of pomp and splendor. She thought of her fate with a sad heart and cursed the pride and haughtiness which had humbled her and brought her to such great poverty.

The smell of the delicious dishes which were being taken in and out reached her. Now and then the servants threw her a few morsels of them: these she put in her jars to take home.

All at once the prince entered, clothed in velvet and silk, with gold chains about his neck. When he saw the beautiful woman standing by the door he seized her by the hand. He would have danced with her; but she refused and shrank with fear, for she saw that it was King Thrushbeard, whom she had driven away with scorn.

Her struggles did not help, he drew her into the hall. The string by which her pockets were hung broke, the pots fell down, the soup ran out and the scraps were scattered all about. When the people saw it, there arose laughter and derision from all. She was so ashamed that she would rather have been a thousand fathoms below the ground.

King Thrushbeard reveals that he was the fiddler

She sprang to the door and would have run away, but on the stairs a man caught her and brought her back; and when she looked at him it was King Thrushbeard again. Kindly he said to her, “Do not be afraid. I and the fiddler who has been living with you in that wretched hovel are one. For love of you I disguised myself. I also was the hussar who rode through your crockery. This was all done to humble your proud spirit and to punish you for the insolence with which you mocked me.”

She wept bitterly and said, “I have done great wrong, and I am not worthy to be your wife.”

But he said, “Be comforted, the evil days are past; now we will celebrate our wedding.”

The maids-in-waiting came and put on her the most splendid clothing. Her father and his whole court came and wished her happiness in her marriage with King Thrushbeard and now the joy began in earnest. I wish you and I had been there too.

Tips for Telling King Thrushbeard

Storyteller Rudolf Roos
  • This is a very classic fairy tale. If you are not careful everybody will see the end coming from the beginning. Don’t give any obvious clues that the fiddler-beggar is King Thrushbeard!
  • Central in this story is the journey of the haughty princess through difficulties. The stronger the contrast of the princess at the beginning and the princess at the end, the stronger the story becomes. So make sure you paint her as super arrogant in the beginning.
  • The problems that the princess goes through, must be really felt. As an exercise try to tell this story as the princess, diving deep in her emotions, to one best-friend-listener.
A telling of King Thrushbeard

All Questions Answered

Who wrote the story King Thrushbeard?

This fairy tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Their sources: the Hassenpflug family, Dortchen Wild, Ludowine Haxthausen.

When was King Thrushbeard written?

The Brothers Grimm included it in the 1812 edition of the Grimm’s fairy tales. They edited it in the later editions.

More useful information

Fairy tales with a maid

Fairy tales with a musician

Photo credits: my best in collections – see and press 👍🔖 from Pixabay

The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales on this website are based on the authentic translation of Margaret Hunt. They were edited and reformatted for pleasant reading and telling by Storyteller Rudolf Roos.
See the complete list of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

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