The Robber Bridegroom

Robber Bridegroom Fairy Tale

Her betrothed gives her the creeps. When he invites her to his house, her darkest nightmares become reality. Will she survive?

The Robber Bridegroom is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about the daughter of a miller. Her betrothed invites her to his house in the forest. She finds out that he is part of a gang of robbers. After witnessing a horrific murder she escapes. At the wedding she retells what happened. The robbers are executed.

Complete text The Robber Bridegroom

A young woman becomes engaged

Once upon a time there was a miller who had a beautiful daughter. As she was grown up, he wished that she was provided for and well married. He thought, “If any good suitor comes and asks for her, I will give her to him.”

Not long afterwards, a suitor came who appeared to be very rich. As the miller had no fault to find with him, he promised his daughter to him. His daughter however, did not like him quite so much as a girl should like the man to whom she is engaged. She had no confidence in him. Whenever she saw, or thought of him, she felt a secret horror.

Once he said to her, “You are my betrothed, but you have never once visited me.

The young woman replied, “I do know not where you live.”

“My house is out there in the dark forest,” said the bridegroom.

She tried to excuse herself and said she could not find the way there. Then the bridegroom said, “Next Sunday you must come out there to me; I have already invited the guests, and I will strew ashes so that you can find your way through the forest.”

The young woman visits the house of her bridegroom to be

When Sunday came, the young woman set out on her way. She became very uneasy, she herself knew not exactly why. To mark her way she filled both her pockets full of peas and lentils. Ashes were strewn at the entrance of the forest and these she followed. However at every step she threw a couple of peas on the ground.

She walked almost the whole day until she reached the middle of the forest, where it was the darkest. There stood a solitary house, which she did not like, for it looked so dark and dismal. She went inside, but no one was within and the most absolute stillness reigned.

Suddenly a voice cried,

“Turn back, turn back, young lady dear,
It’s a murderer’s house you enter here.”

She looked up, and saw that the voice came from a bird, which was hanging in a cage on the wall. Again it cried,

“Turn back, turn back, young lady dear,
It’s a murderer’s house you enter here.”

Then she went on farther from one room to another and walked through the whole house, but it was entirely empty and not one human being was to be found. At last she came to the cellar. There sat an extremely aged woman, whose head shook constantly.

“Can you not tell me,” said the maiden, “if my betrothed lives here?”

“Oh no, poor child,” replied the old woman, “why have you come? You are in a murderer’s house. You think you are a bride soon to be married, but it will be a wedding with death. Look, I have been forced to put a great kettle on there, with water in it. When they have you in their power, they will cut you into pieces without mercy. They will cook you and eat you, for they are eaters of human flesh. If I do not have compassion on you and save you, you are lost.”

The robbers arrive home

The old woman led her behind a big barrel where she could not be seen.

“Be as still as a mouse,” she said, “don’t make a sound, or move, or all will be over for you. At night, when the robbers are asleep, we will escape; I have long waited for an opportunity.”

Hardly was this done, than the godless crew came home. They dragged with them another young girl. They were drunk, and paid no heed to her screams and lamentations. They gave her wine to drink, three glasses full, one glass of white wine, one glass of red, and a glass of yellow, and with this her heart burst in two halves.

They tore off her delicate clothing and laid her on a table. Then they cut her beautiful body in pieces and strewed salt on them. The poor bride behind the barrel trembled and shook. She saw clearly what fate the robbers had destined for her.

One of them noticed a gold ring on the little finger of the murdered girl. It would not come off at once, so he took an axe and cut the finger off. The finger sprang up in the air, away over the barrel and fell straight into the bride’s bosom.

The robber took a candle and wanted to look for it, but could not find it. Then another of them said, “Have you looked behind that big barrel?”

Then the old woman cried, “Come and get something to eat, and leave off looking till the morning, the finger won’t run away from you.”

The women escape the robbers

The robbers said, “The old woman is right,” and gave up their search. They sat down to eat. The old woman poured a sleeping-draught in their wine, so that soon they lay down in the cellar, sleeping and snoring.

When the bride heard that she came out from behind the barrel. She had to step over the sleepers, for they lay in rows on the ground. She trembled from fear of awakening one. But God helped her and she got safely over.

The old woman went up with her, opened the doors and they hurried out of the murderers’ den as fast as they could. The wind had blown away the strewn ashes, but the peas and lentils had sprouted and grown up. They showed them the way in the moonlight. They walked the whole night, until in the morning they arrived at the mill. There the maiden told her father everything exactly as it had happened.

When the day came when the wedding was to be celebrated, the bridegroom appeared. The miller had invited all his relations and friends. As they sat at the table, each was asked to tell something. The bride sat still and said nothing.

Then the bridegroom said to the bride, “Come, my darling, don’t you have something to tell? Please do, like the rest of them!”

The bride relates what happened in the house

She replied, “Then I will relate a dream. I was walking alone through a forest. At last I came to a house, in which no living soul was, but on the wall there was a bird in a cage which cried,

“Turn back, turn back, young lady dear,
It’s a murderer’s house you enter here.”

And this it cried once more.

‘My darling, it was only a dream.’

Then I went through all the rooms. They were all empty and there was something so horrible about them! At last I went down into the cellar and there sat a very very old woman, whose head shook. I asked her, ‘Does my bridegroom live in this house?’

She answered, ‘Oh no poor child, you have gotten into a murderer’s den, your bridegroom does live here, but he will cut you in pieces, and kill you and then he will cook you and eat you.’

‘My darling, it was only a dream.’

But the old woman hid me behind a big barrel. Scarcely was I hidden, when the robbers came home, dragging a maiden with them. They gave her three kinds of wine to drink, white, red, and yellow, which caused her heart to burst.

‘My darling, it was only a dream.’

They pulled off her pretty clothes, cut up her fair body in pieces on a table and sprinkled them with salt.

‘My darling, it was only a dream.’

One of the robbers saw that there was still a ring on her little finger. As it was hard to draw off, he took an axe and cut it off. The finger sprang up in the air, sprang behind the great barrel and fell in my bosom. And there is the finger with the ring!”

With these words she drew it forth and showed it to those present.

The robber, who had during this story become as pale as ashes, leapt up and wanted to escape. The guests held him fast and delivered him over to justice. He and his whole troop were executed for their infamous deeds.

Tips for Telling The Robber Bridegroom

Storyteller Rudolf Roos
  • If this story was made into a movie, it would be a horror movie. Telling a story that gives your listeners the creeps and shivers has a lot to do with the atmosphere that you create. The best way to do that is to feel the dread rising inside yourself.
  • You as a storyteller should be firmly behind what you tell, otherwise your listeners will feel the disconnect. For this story it means that you need to find a way to tell the horror that is ok for you. Also, be clear about who can listen to your telling. It should not feel ok to tell a horror scene with an 8-year-old before you.
  • While telling about ‘her dream’, the young woman looks several times to her robber bridegroom and tells him that it was just a dream. Repetition is very useful in this case to build up tension. Take care not to repeat too much and at the same time not to go too fast. Nothing builds up tension likes good pauses.
A reading of ‘The Robber Bridegroom’

All Questions Answered

Who wrote the story The Robber Bridegroom?

The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Their source was Marie Hassenpflug, but this tale had already been part of the oral tradition for a long time.

When was The Robber Bridegroom written?

The Brothers Grimm included a different version in the first edition (1812) of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but rewrote it extensively for later editions. Variants of this tale have been long told before.

More useful information

Photo credits: Gautier Salles on Unsplash

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