Grimm's Fairy Tales

by Grimm Brothers

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1905
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Source: Edwardes, M., Taylor, E., trans. (1905). Grimm's Fairy Tales. New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 6.3
  • Word Count: 1,552


There was a king who had twelve beautiful daughters. They slept intwelve beds all in one room; and when they went to bed, the doors wereshut and locked up; but every morning their shoes were found to bequite worn through as if they had been danced in all night; and yetnobody could find out how it happened, or where they had been.

Then the king made it known to all the land, that if any person coulddiscover the secret, and find out where it was that the princessesdanced in the night, he should have the one he liked best for hiswife, and should be king after his death; but whoever tried and didnot succeed, after three days and nights, should be put to death.

A king’s son soon came. He was well entertained, and in the eveningwas taken to the chamber next to the one where the princesses lay intheir twelve beds. There he was to sit and watch where they went todance; and, in order that nothing might pass without his hearing it,the door of his chamber was left open. But the king’s son soon fellasleep; and when he awoke in the morning he found that the princesseshad all been dancing, for the soles of their shoes were full of holes.The same thing happened the second and third night: so the kingordered his head to be cut off. After him came several others; butthey had all the same luck, and all lost their lives in the samemanner.

Now it chanced that an old soldier, who had been wounded in battle andcould fight no longer, passed through the country where this kingreigned: and as he was travelling through a wood, he met an old woman,who asked him where he was going. ‘I hardly know where I am going, orwhat I had better do,’ said the soldier; ‘but I think I should likevery well to find out where it is that the princesses dance, and thenin time I might be a king.’ ‘Well,’ said the old dame, ‘that is novery hard task: only take care not to drink any of the wine which oneof the princesses will bring to you in the evening; and as soon as sheleaves you pretend to be fast asleep.’

Then she gave him a cloak, and said, ‘As soon as you put that on youwill become invisible, and you will then be able to follow theprincesses wherever they go.’ When the soldier heard all this goodcounsel, he determined to try his luck: so he went to the king, andsaid he was willing to undertake the task.

He was as well received as the others had been, and the king orderedfine royal robes to be given him; and when the evening came he was ledto the outer chamber. Just as he was going to lie down, the eldest ofthe princesses brought him a cup of wine; but the soldier threw it allaway secretly, taking care not to drink a drop. Then he laid himselfdown on his bed, and in a little while began to snore very loud as ifhe was fast asleep. When the twelve princesses heard this they laughedheartily; and the eldest said, ‘This fellow too might have done awiser thing than lose his life in this way!’ Then they rose up andopened their drawers and boxes, and took out all their fine clothes,and dressed themselves at the glass, and skipped about as if they wereeager to begin dancing. But the youngest said, ‘I don’t know how itis, while you are so happy I feel very uneasy; I am sure somemischance will befall us.’ ‘You simpleton,’ said the eldest, ‘you arealways afraid; have you forgotten how many kings’ sons have alreadywatched in vain? And as for this soldier, even if I had not given himhis sleeping draught, he would have slept soundly enough.’

When they were all ready, they went and looked at the soldier; but hesnored on, and did not stir hand or foot: so they thought they werequite safe; and the eldest went up to her own bed and clapped herhands, and the bed sank into the floor and a trap-door flew open. Thesoldier saw them going down through the trap-door one after another,the eldest leading the way; and thinking he had no time to lose, hejumped up, put on the cloak which the old woman had given him, andfollowed them; but in the middle of the stairs he trod on the gown ofthe youngest princess, and she cried out to her sisters, ‘All is notright; someone took hold of my gown.’ ‘You silly creature!’ said theeldest, ‘it is nothing but a nail in the wall.’ Then down they allwent, and at the bottom they found themselves in a most delightfulgrove of trees; and the leaves were all of silver, and glittered andsparkled beautifully. The soldier wished to take away some token ofthe place; so he broke off a little branch, and there came a loudnoise from the tree. Then the youngest daughter said again, ‘I am sureall is not right—did not you hear that noise? That never happenedbefore.’ But the eldest said, ‘It is only our princes, who areshouting for joy at our approach.’

Then they came to another grove of trees, where all the leaves were ofgold; and afterwards to a third, where the leaves were all glitteringdiamonds. And the soldier broke a branch from each; and every timethere was a loud noise, which made the youngest sister tremble withfear; but the eldest still said, it was only the princes, who werecrying for joy. So they went on till they came to a great lake; and atthe side of the lake there lay twelve little boats with twelvehandsome princes in them, who seemed to be waiting there for theprincesses.

One of the princesses went into each boat, and the soldier steppedinto the same boat with the youngest. As they were rowing over thelake, the prince who was in the boat with the youngest princess andthe soldier said, ‘I do not know why it is, but though I am rowingwith all my might we do not get on so fast as usual, and I am quitetired: the boat seems very heavy today.’ ‘It is only the heat of theweather,’ said the princess: ‘I feel it very warm too.’

On the other side of the lake stood a fine illuminated castle, fromwhich came the merry music of horns and trumpets. There they alllanded, and went into the castle, and each prince danced with hisprincess; and the soldier, who was all the time invisible, danced withthem too; and when any of the princesses had a cup of wine set by her,he drank it all up, so that when she put the cup to her mouth it wasempty. At this, too, the youngest sister was terribly frightened, butthe eldest always silenced her. They danced on till three o’clock inthe morning, and then all their shoes were worn out, so that they wereobliged to leave off. The princes rowed them back again over the lake(but this time the soldier placed himself in the boat with the eldestprincess); and on the opposite shore they took leave of each other,the princesses promising to come again the next night.

When they came to the stairs, the soldier ran on before theprincesses, and laid himself down; and as the twelve sisters slowlycame up very much tired, they heard him snoring in his bed; so theysaid, ‘Now all is quite safe’; then they undressed themselves, putaway their fine clothes, pulled off their shoes, and went to bed. Inthe morning the soldier said nothing about what had happened, butdetermined to see more of this strange adventure, and went again thesecond and third night; and every thing happened just as before; theprincesses danced each time till their shoes were worn to pieces, andthen returned home. However, on the third night the soldier carriedaway one of the golden cups as a token of where he had been.

As soon as the time came when he was to declare the secret, he wastaken before the king with the three branches and the golden cup; andthe twelve princesses stood listening behind the door to hear what hewould say. And when the king asked him. ‘Where do my twelve daughtersdance at night?’ he answered, ‘With twelve princes in a castle underground.’ And then he told the king all that had happened, and showedhim the three branches and the golden cup which he had brought withhim. Then the king called for the princesses, and asked them whetherwhat the soldier said was true: and when they saw that they werediscovered, and that it was of no use to deny what had happened, theyconfessed it all. And the king asked the soldier which of them hewould choose for his wife; and he answered, ‘I am not very young, so Iwill have the eldest.’—And they were married that very day, and thesoldier was chosen to be the king’s heir.