Long before Lori Gottlieb wrote her famous book, indeed long before the Brothers Grimm wrote this tale down, German parents were warning their daughters about the danger of becoming overly picky when selecting a husband. Today’s tale is called King Roughbeard, and it is about a beautiful princess who isn’t satisfied with any of the greatest men of the land:
A king once had a daughter who was beautiful beyond measure, but so haughty and proud that she considered no man good enough to marry her. She pretended to accept one after another the suitors who approached her, and then treated them with mockery and scorn. At last her father, the king, made a great feast, and invited all the most illustrious men for miles round to be present. All of them were introduced to the proud young princess by their rank. First, the king of a neighbouring country, then a duke, then a prince, and, after these, nobles of high position.
But the princess, when asked to choose for herself, had some fault to find with each. One was too fat, another too thin, a third was short and thick, and a fourth had a face as pale as a ghost; and so on, till they all went away quite offended, except one son of the king of a neighbouring country—the highest of them all. Now the princess in her heart liked this one of her suitors best, but she made no difference in her manner to him. The young prince had a very good-looking face, but his chin was a little crooked, and he had a rough beard.
” Oh !” said the young princess, when she saw he still waited after the others were gone, “what a chin he has, to be sure; just like a bird’s beak ! I shall call him King Roughbeard and she laughed heartily as she spoke.
But as we saw with Cinderella, actions have consequences in Brothers Grimm tales.
After the feast was over, and the king found that not only had his daughter dismissed all her lovers, but that she had mocked and insulted his guests; he was very angry, and took an oath that his daughter should take as a husband the first poor wayfarer who came to the castle.
The king kept is word and married her to a minstrel who performed in a request for alms (basically a bum looking for a handout). He then sent her away to go live with her new husband. On the way to her husband’s hovel, they travelled through the woods belonging to Prince Roughbeard’s kingom, and the princess bemoaned her terrible fate:
“Ah, me !” she cried ; “this wood belongs to the prince that I mocked and insulted. Ah ! poor delicate creature that I am ! if I had only married him when he wanted me !”
Then they reached the husband’s tiny home, and she learned that from now on she would need to work according to her new status in life:
“Where are the servants ?” asked the king’s daughter.
“What servants?” replied her husband. “You must wait upon yourself now; and you will have to do all the work, to light the fire, to fetch the water, and cook my dinner, for I am too tired to help you.”
The princess was being punished now for her pride. Her husband, although he could sing, looked so repulsive in his ragged clothes, and with his face tied up as if he had the toothache, that she did not care to do anything for him.
After a slow start, she eventually did do the work required of her. When they needed money, her husband had her take on extra work in the home to supplement their income, but she lacked the skills needed for these occupations and fails at them. Finally he sets her up with a stall at the market where she sells goods for a small profit:
” See, now,” said her husband, ” you are good for nothing at work. I am badly oft” indeed with such a helpless wife; so I must find a trade for you. If I purchase a basket-full of different wares, you can sit in the market and sell them.”
“Ah !” thought she, “when the market people from my father’s kingdom come out and see me sitting there with things to sell, how they will mock me.”
But she accepted that she had no choice if they were to make enough money to survive, and plus her husband was a kind man and she wanted to do well for him. However this didn’t work out either after an out of control horseman knocks over her stall, so he set her up with a job as a kitchen maid in the castle of the same prince she had scorned, and she learns he is about to be married:
They brought her whatever pieces were left for her to take home for dinner and supper, and she was often very tired. But she could hear what went on in King Roughbeard’s castle, and at last the servants told her that a great festival was about to take place in honour of the young king’s marriage.
The poor wife, who remembered that she could once have been his wife but for her pride, felt very sad; yet she could not help going to the door of the grand saloon, that she might see the company arrive.
The prince recognizes her, and in the process she is greatly humilliated:
she saw all at once a noble-looking prince approaching her. He was richly dressed in velvet and silver, and wore a golden order across his shoulders. He saw the beautiful princess who had lost her position through her own pride standing at the door. He knew her at once, although she was so meanly dressed; but when he advanced and took her by the hand, to lead her into the ball-room, saying that she must dance with him, she was in a terrible fright, and struggled to get free, for she knew it was King Roughbeard, her lover, whom she had treated with contempt. But it was useless to refuse, he held her hand so tightly, and led her in.
In the struggle the band that fastened her basket round her waist broke, and all the broken pieces [kitchen scraps] which the servants had given her were scattered on the floor, and rolled in all directions, while the company looked on and laughed, in tones of mockery. Her shame was now complete, and she wished she could at that moment hide herself a thousand fathoms deep in the earth. She rushed to the door to run away
What she doesn’t know is that her husband has been the prince (now king) all along. The prince catches up with her and explains:
” Do not fear,” said he, in a gentle tone; ” I am the wandering minstrel with whom you have lived in the wretched house in the wood are the same. My love for you made me disguise myself that I might win you through your father’s oath. I was the hussar who upset your basket I have done it to try if, after all, you really loved King Roughbeard, whom you refused and mocked; and I hoped that your proud thoughts would be humbled, and your haughty spirit bend, and that it would be as a punishment for having mocked and spurned me.”
Then she wept bitterly, and said, ” I know I have done wrong, and I am not worthy to be your wife.”
But he said, “Be comforted; all is past now. You are my wife, and we have a splendid festival to celebrate the event after all.”
Then he took her to a beautiful chamber, where the maidens of the court dressed her in royal robes, and when her husband came and conducted her to the great hall, there was her father and his whole court ready to receive her, and wish her joy on her marriage with King Roughbeard, and so was there a joyful end to all her troubles.