In 2009, a collection of approximately 500 lost fairy tales gathered by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth back in the 1800’s were discovered in Regensburg, Germany. Had they not been locked away for over 150 years, today we might be just as familiar with von Schönwerth’s name as we are with the Brothers Grimm. Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was a contemporary of the Grimms, after all, and was particularly inspired by Jacob Grimm, with whom he corresponded back and forth beginning in 1858.
Why were the Grimms so well-known for German fairy tales, yet von Schönwerth’s name is so unfamiliar? Several factors come into play—but don’t feel too bad for Schönwerth; he did very well as Maximillian’s personal secretary, moved up the ladder, and was eventually even knighted.
Historically speaking, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was born in Bavaria in 1810, went to school, and took on an administrative position in Upper Bavaria in 1840. Later, he became the private secretary of Maximillian, who was prince at the time; Schönwerth did his job so well, he was soon promoted. He was also personally interested in folklore, culture, and history, so he began collecting and recording tales, legends, and other cultural customs. Schönwerth even used a questionnaire—his methods were so scientifically objective that Jacob Grimm not only recommended his methods to the king, but also stated that Schönwerth would be the only one capable of continuing the Grimm brothers’ work.
So why wasn’t he? This all sounds like Schönwerth should have been the Grimms’ successor … but contrary to the Grimms, von Schönwerth did not focus on a united Germany—rather he focused solely on the Upper Palatinate (in the eastern region of Bavaria) and he made no changes to enhance the tales’ appeal (unlike the Grimms, who revised to what publishers—and the public—wanted). Schönwerth also did not publish or promote the folktales that he collected (although he did publish a 3-volume set of books covering his research, but these books didn’t do very well). His papers were kept—eventually archived through the city council in Regensburg—but virtually forgotten until Erika Eichenseer found his 500 fairy tales in 2009.
The find is quite valuable because many of the tales cannot be found in other fairy tale collections, and Eichenseer published some of them in a book entitled Prinz Roßzwifl und andere Märchen aus der Sammlung von Franz Xaver von Schönwerth in 2010. Later, Maria Tatar translated several of the tales, publishing 72 of them in a 2015 compilation entitled The Turnip Princess and other newly discovered fairy tales.