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The Twelve Huntsmen
Grimm Märchen

The Twelve Huntsmen - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 9 min

There was once a King’s son who was betrothed to a maiden whom he loved very much. And when he was sitting beside her and very happy, news came that his father lay sick unto death, and desired to see him once again before his end. Then he said to his beloved, „I must now go and leave thee, I give thee a ring as a remembrance of me. When I am King, I will return and fetch thee.“ So he rode away, and when he reached his father, the latter was dangerously ill, and near his death.

He said to him, „Dear son, I wished to see thee once again before my end, promise me to marry as I wish,“ and he named a certain King’s daughter who was to be his wife. The son was in such trouble that he did not think what he was doing, and said, „Yes, dear father, your will shall be done,“ and thereupon the King shut his eyes, and died. When therefore the son had been proclaimed King, and the time of mourning was over, he was forced to keep the promise which he had given his father, and caused the King’s daughter to be asked in marriage, and she was promised to him.

His first betrothed heard of this, and fretted so much about his faithlessness that she nearly died. Then her father said to her, „Dearest child, why art thou so sad? Thou shalt have whatsoever thou wilt.“ She thought for a moment and said, „Dear father, I wish for eleven girls exactly like myself in face, figure, and size.“ The father said, „If it be possible, thy desire shall be fulfilled,“ and he caused a search to be made in his whole kingdom, until eleven young maidens were found who exactly resembled his daughter in face, figure, and size.

When they came to the King’s daughter, she had twelve suits of huntsmen’s clothes made, all alike, and the eleven maidens had to put on the huntsmen’s clothes, and she herself put on the twelfth suit. Thereupon she took leave of her father, and rode away with them, and rode to the court of her former betrothed, whom she loved so dearly. Then she inquired if he required any huntsmen, and if he would take the whole of them into his service. The King looked at her and did not know her, but as they were such handsome fellows, he said, „Yes,“ and that he would willingly take them, and now they were the King’s twelve huntsmen.

The King, however, had a lion which was a wondrous animal, for he knew all concealed and secret things. It came to pass that one evening he said to the King, „Thou thinkest thou hast twelve huntsmen?“ – „Yes,“ said the King, „they are twelve huntsmen.“ The lion continued, „Thou art mistaken, they are twelve girls.“ The King said, „That cannot be true! How wilt thou prove that to me?“ – „Oh, just let some peas be strewn in thy ante-chamber,“ answered the lion, „and then thou wilt soon see it. Men have a firm step, and when they walk over the peas none of them stir, but girls trip and skip, and drag their feet, and the peas roll about.“ The King was well pleased with the counsel, and caused the peas to be strewn.

There was, however, a servant of the King’s who favored the huntsmen, and when he heard that they were going to be put to this test he went to them and repeated everything, and said, „The lion wants to make the King believe that you are girls.“ Then the King’s daughter thanked him, and said to her maidens, „Put on some strength, and step firmly on the peas.“ So next morning when the King had the twelve huntsmen called before him, and they came into the ante-chamber where the peas were lying, they stepped so firmly on them, and had such a strong, sure walk, that not one of the peas either rolled or stirred.

Then they went away again, and the King said to the lion, „Thou hast lied to me, they walk just like men.“ The lion said, „They have got to know that they were going to be put to the test, and have assumed some strength. Just let twelve spinning-wheels be brought into the ante-chamber some day, and they will go to them and be pleased with them, and that is what no man would do.“ The King liked the advice, and had the spinning-wheels placed in the ante-chamber.

But the servant, who was well disposed to the huntsmen, went to them, and disclosed the project. Then when they were alone the King’s daughter said to her eleven girls, „Put some constraint on yourselves, and do not look round at the spinning-wheels.“ And next morning when the King had his twelve huntsmen summoned, they went through the ante-chamber, and never once looked at the spinning wheels. Then the King again said to the lion, „Thou hast deceived me, they are men, for they have not looked at the spinning-wheels.“

The lion replied, „They have learnt that they were going to be put to the test, and have restrained themselves.“ The King, however, would no longer believe the lion. The twelve huntsmen always followed the King to the chase, and his liking for them continually increased. Now it came to pass that once when they were out hunting, news came that the King’s betrothed was approaching. When the true bride heard that, it hurt her so much that her heart was almost broken, and she fell fainting to the ground. The King thought something had happened to his dear huntsman, ran up to him, wanted to help him, and drew his glove off.

Then he saw the ring which he had given to his first bride, and when he looked in her face he recognized her. Then his heart was so touched that he kissed her, and when she opened her eyes he said, „Thou art mine, and I am thine, and no one in the world can alter that.“ He sent a messenger to the other bride, and entreated her to return to her own kingdom, for he had a wife already, and a man who had just found an old dish did not require a new one. Thereupon the wedding was celebrated, and the lion was again taken into favour, because, after all, he had told the truth.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The twelve huntsmen“

„The Twelve Huntsmen“ is a lesser-known German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ The story features a strong-willed princess who disguises herself as a huntsman to be near her beloved prince, overcoming challenges and ultimately proving her love and devotion. Here are some key background elements of the tale:

The Brothers Grimm: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German scholars, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published European folktales in the 19th century. Their goal was to preserve the rich oral tradition of storytelling found throughout Europe. Their collection, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales,“ is considered one of the most influential works in the field of folklore. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were key figures in the Romantic movement in Germany, which sought to celebrate the nation’s culture, history, and folklore. As such, their collection of fairy tales played an important role in promoting German culture and identity. The tales have been translated into numerous languages, and many have become an essential part of the world’s cultural heritage, influencing literature, art, and popular culture.

Origins and influences: „The Twelve Huntsmen“ is believed to have originated from the German oral tradition, passed down through generations of storytelling. The tale shares themes and motifs with other folktales and fairy tales, such as the idea of disguising oneself to achieve a goal, the power of love, and the importance of determination and courage. „The Twelve Huntsmen“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were linguists, cultural researchers, and authors during the early 19th century. Their collection, titled „Grimm’s Fairy Tales,“ also known as „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), was first published in 1812 and contains over 200 stories. The tales were gathered from various sources, including oral tradition and written works, with the intention of preserving German folklore.

Structure and plot: The story follows a princess who learns that her beloved prince has been forced to break off their engagement by his father, who wants him to marry another princess. Heartbroken but determined, the princess disguises herself as a huntsman and convinces eleven other women to do the same. They join the prince’s hunting party, and through a series of tests, the princess ultimately reveals her true identity and proves her devotion to the prince. They marry and live happily ever after.

Themes and motifs: „The Twelve Huntsmen“ explores several themes and motifs common to many folktales and fairy tales: The princess’s use of disguise is central to the story, highlighting the lengths one might go to for love and the potential for transformation and growth. The tale emphasizes the power of love and the importance of devotion, as the princess’s unwavering commitment to the prince ultimately brings them together. The story showcases the princess’s determination and courage, as she defies convention and takes matters into her own hands to be with her beloved.

Morals and lessons: The tale imparts valuable life lessons about the importance of love, determination, and courage. It also encourages readers to be true to themselves and fight for what they believe in, even in the face of adversity.

In summary, „The Twelve Huntsmen“ is a lesser-known Grimm’s fairy tale that focuses on the themes of love, determination, and courage. The story showcases the power of devotion and the lengths one might go to for the sake of love, encouraging readers to be true to themselves and fight for their beliefs. „The Twelve Huntsmen,“ like many other Grimm fairy tales, features elements such as royalty, love, deception, and the wisdom of animals. These themes and motifs are common in European folklore and are used to convey moral lessons or explore human nature. The Brothers Grimm often adapted the original tales to make them more suitable for their contemporary audience, toning down some of the more gruesome elements and occasionally adding moralistic or religious elements.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The twelve huntsmen“

„The Twelve Huntsmen“ can be interpreted in various ways. Some possible interpretations include:

Love’s endurance: The story highlights the power of true love that endures through difficult circumstances, as the first bride remains faithful to the King and goes to great lengths to be near him, even disguising herself as a huntsman. The King, though initially bound by duty, ultimately follows his heart and reunites with his true love. The story showcases the power of love and the importance of devotion, as the princess’s unwavering commitment to the prince ultimately brings them together. This interpretation emphasizes the strength of true love and the idea that it can overcome obstacles and societal expectations.

Gender roles and stereotypes: The tale challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes by portraying the female protagonist and her companions as strong, determined, and capable of adapting to traditionally male roles. The tests the lion proposes are based on gender stereotypes, but the women prove themselves capable of overcoming these expectations.

Deception and truth: The story explores the theme of deception, as the first bride disguises herself and her companions to be close to her former betrothed. The lion, a symbol of wisdom and insight, sees through this deception but struggles to convince the King of the truth. In the end, the truth prevails, and the lion is vindicated.

Loyalty and betrayal: The tale also touches upon the themes of loyalty and betrayal. The King initially betrays his first love by agreeing to marry another, but his true loyalty remains with his first love. Additionally, the servant’s loyalty to the twelve huntsmen helps them pass the tests, showcasing the importance of loyalty and support.

The wisdom of animals: The lion, as a symbol of wisdom, knows the truth about the huntsmen and guides the King, albeit with some difficulty. This highlights the wisdom of animals and their ability to see the truth when humans may be blinded by appearances or circumstances.

Determination and courage: The tale highlights the princess’s determination and courage as she defies convention and takes matters into her own hands to be with her beloved. This interpretation suggests that determination and courage are essential qualities for overcoming challenges and achieving one’s goals.

Disguise and transformation: The princess’s use of disguise is central to the story, highlighting the potential for transformation and growth. This interpretation invites readers to consider the ways in which we might change or reinvent ourselves to adapt to different situations or pursue our desires.

Gender roles and expectations: The story can be interpreted as a critique of traditional gender roles and expectations, as the princess must disguise herself as a man to achieve her goal. This interpretation encourages readers to question societal norms and consider the ways in which gender roles can be limiting or restrictive.

Personal identity and self-discovery: „The Twelve Huntsmen“ can also be read as a story of personal identity and self-discovery, as the princess learns more about herself and her capabilities through her experiences in disguise. This interpretation explores the idea that challenging ourselves and stepping outside our comfort zones can lead to personal growth and self-realization.

The importance of being true to oneself: The tale ultimately conveys the message that being true to oneself and fighting for one’s beliefs, even in the face of adversity, is crucial. This interpretation encourages readers to stand up for their values and pursue their desires, regardless of the obstacles they may face.

In summary, „The Twelve Huntsmen“ offers various interpretations, each providing a different perspective on the story’s themes and lessons. The tale’s multifaceted nature allows for a rich and engaging reading experience, inviting readers to reflect on its themes and connect them to their own lives.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The twelve huntsmen“

While „The Twelve Huntsmen“ may not be as well-known or widely adapted as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it has inspired some adaptations and creative works that draw on its themes and narrative. Here are a few examples:

Films: „The Twelve Huntsmen“ (film, 1945) – A German film adaptation of the tale, directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt and starring Joachim Gottschalk and Inge Konradi.

Theater: Stage adaptations of „The Twelve Huntsmen“ have been performed, often as part of larger productions of Grimm’s fairy tales or children’s theater. These performances use storytelling, music, and other theatrical techniques to bring the story to life for the audience, highlighting themes such as love, determination, and courage.

Animated series: Although not as common as adaptations of more famous Grimm tales, „The Twelve Huntsmen“ has been included in some animated series dedicated to the Brothers Grimm stories. For example, „Simsala Grimm,“ a German animated series, features an episode based on „The Twelve Huntsmen,“ presenting the story in a family-friendly format. „The Twelve Huntsmen“ (TV series, 2018) – A Korean TV series that adapts the tale into a historical drama about a group of secret agents who protect a prince from political enemies.

Literature: Authors have occasionally incorporated elements of „The Twelve Huntsmen“ into their own works, either as retellings or by drawing upon themes and motifs from the story. These literary works often explore the concepts of disguise, love, and determination in new and imaginative ways. „The Twelve Dancing Princesses“ (book, 2011) – A retelling of the tale by author Jessica Day George, which transforms the huntsmen into dancing princesses and sets the story in a magical realm. „The Twelve Huntsmen“ (comic, 2020) – A graphic novel adaptation of the tale by artist Benjamin Schipper, which retells the story in a humorous and whimsical style.

Art and illustrations: Various illustrators have created artwork for different editions of „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or standalone books featuring „The Twelve Huntsmen.“ These illustrations often capture key moments, characters, and themes of the story, adding a visual dimension to the narrative.

Music: Some composers and musicians have created musical works inspired by „The Twelve Huntsmen“ or other Grimm’s fairy tales. These pieces may use elements of the story to explore themes of love, determination, and transformation. „The Twelve Huntsmen“ (opera, 2019) – An opera adaptation of the tale by composer Steingrimur Rohloff, which premiered at the Reykjavik Opera in Iceland.

These are just a few examples of the many adaptations of „The Twelve Huntsmen“ that exist in various forms of media. The tale’s enduring popularity is a testament to its timeless themes of loyalty, love, and perseverance. Though „The Twelve Huntsmen“ may not have as many adaptations as some of the more popular Grimm tales, these examples demonstrate that the story continues to inspire artists and storytellers. The fairy tale’s themes of love, determination, and courage remain relevant and continue to resonate with audiences today.

Summary of the plot

„The Twelve Huntsmen“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a King’s son who is betrothed to a maiden he loves dearly. When his father falls ill, he leaves his beloved, promising to return for her once he becomes King. His father, on his deathbed, makes the son promise to marry a specific King’s daughter, to which he agrees. Upon his father’s death, the son becomes King and is forced to keep his promise, thus becoming engaged to the other King’s daughter.

His first betrothed hears of his faithlessness and becomes deeply saddened. Her father agrees to fulfill any wish she has, and she wishes for eleven girls who resemble her exactly. He finds the girls and they all don twelve huntsmen’s outfits. Together, they travel to the court of the King, her former betrothed, who unknowingly hires them as his twelve huntsmen.

The King’s lion, who knows all concealed and secret things, tells the King that his twelve huntsmen are actually twelve girls. To prove this, the lion suggests that the King scatter peas in the ante-chamber, as men walk firmly while girls tend to trip and drag their feet. A kind-hearted servant warns the huntsmen, and they walk firmly, disproving the lion’s claim. The lion then suggests another test, involving spinning wheels, but the servant warns the huntsmen again, and they pass this test as well.

The King grows fond of his twelve huntsmen, especially the true bride. When news arrives that the King’s betrothed is approaching, the true bride faints in despair. The King rushes to help her, and upon removing her glove, discovers the ring he had given her and recognizes her as his true love. He sends a message to the other bride, asking her to return to her kingdom, as he has a wife already. The true bride and the King are married, and the lion is taken back into favor, as he had told the truth all along.


„The Twelve Huntsmen“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a princess who disguises herself as a huntsman to be near her beloved prince. The story begins with a prince and a princess who are engaged to be married. However, the prince’s father falls ill and, on his deathbed, demands that his son marry another princess instead. Heartbroken, the prince obeys his father’s dying wish and breaks off his engagement with the first princess.

Refusing to accept this fate, the determined princess decides to disguise herself as a male huntsman in order to be near the prince. She enlists eleven other young women, who also disguise themselves as huntsmen, and together, they join the prince’s hunting party. The prince, unaware of their true identities, takes a liking to the group and keeps them close. One day, a lion warns the prince that the twelve huntsmen are actually women, but the princess, overhearing the conversation, devises a plan to outsmart the lion. She and her companions scatter peas in their bedroom, and when the lion slips on them, it’s convinced that only women would be so clumsy. The prince remains unaware of the deception.

Later, a second test is devised, using a spinning wheel and spindle. The princess anticipates this, and she and her companions hide their spinning wheels to avoid detection. However, a servant finds one of the wheels and brings it to the prince. The prince finally realizes that the twelve huntsmen are, indeed, women. Upon discovering the truth, the prince recognizes the first princess and understands the depth of her love and determination. He decides to marry her, as his father is no longer alive to object. The prince and the princess marry, and they live happily ever after. „The Twelve Huntsmen“ emphasizes themes of love, determination, and courage, as the princess defies convention and uses her wit to be with her beloved prince.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 67
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 884
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, RU, TR, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson35.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index78.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.1
Gunning Fog Index10.8
Coleman–Liau Index8.2
SMOG Index8.5
Automated Readability Index9.4
Character Count5.802
Letter Count4.449
Sentence Count47
Word Count1.093
Average Words per Sentence23,26
Words with more than 6 letters133
Percentage of long words12.2%
Number of Syllables1.352
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables40
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.7%
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