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1916 illustration by Arthur Rackham
It is Aarne–Thompson type 900.
A beautiful, but spoiled and shallow princess rudely criticizes all her suitors because she is too proud. She is impressed with the last one, but her pride will not let her accept him. He is a young king with such a thick beard, that to her it looks like a thrush's beak, so she cruelly dubs him King Thrushbeard. He leaves in anger. Her father, exasperated and angry at how she scorned them all, vows that the first man who comes to the palace the next day will become her husband. Meanwhile, an unknown stranger overhears the conversation.
When a young minstrel with a clean shaven face appears in the palace the next day, the king offers his daughter's hand in marriage. He disapproves of marrying her immediately as she does not look strong nor does she appear to be capable of any practical work. However, he notes the poor cannot be choosy and agrees to marry her. She opposes vehemently because he is a commoner, but the king has given his word. She marries him and he takes her away from the palace to his home.
As they travel to the minstrel's home, they pass by the fine lands and properties that belong to King Thrushbeard, and the princess begins to regret scorning him. They arrive at his home, a house fit only for swine. He treats her as though she was a commoner and she is upset now that she must work for a living. He has her doing practical chores and selling pottery, at which she is completely inept. Thoroughly annoyed at her, he tells her the only job left for her is to work as a servant at the nearby castle of a young king: King Thrushbeard.
The princess is initially ashamed that she must work in the palace of a suitor she so harshly scorned and deeply regrets doing so, but puts her pride aside when she realizes that her husband is depending on her to help out with the household. Eventually, she swallows the last of her pride and becomes so compassionate that she throws scraps of food to the mice who live in their home because she realizes they are hungry too.
Just as her life is going smoothly, the princess discovers one day that King Thrushbeard is getting married. She is forced into the great hall by him for a dance. It causes her pockets containing scraps of food to burst open, which spill all over the floor and everybody laughs. She is so embarrassed that she flees the hall crying.
However, much to the princess' surprise, someone helps her up. Dressed in finery is the minstrel, who smiles and asks why she is crying on her wedding day. She is shocked to discover he is really King Thrushbeard. He fell in love with her despite her scorn and secretly married her through her father's vow. Her ordeals were meant to cure her of her proud, spoiled ways and punishment for her cruelty towards him. She is ashamed of herself and thanks him for teaching her to be compassionate to others, telling him that she is not worthy to be his wife. But he forgives her as he has seen that her experiences have changed her. They marry with her father at the wedding. She asks before the whole court that he grow his beard back. He, from then on, is known by no other name but King Thrushbeard and they all live happily ever after.
Appearances in other media
- The story was filmed as König Drosselbart (1954), directed by Herbert B. Fredersdorf.
- The story was filmed as theatrical motion picture for cinema König Drosselbart (1965) (engl.: King Thrushbeard), directed by Walter Beck.
- The tale is retold in an episode of Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics under the title King Grizzlebeard.
- It appeared as a storybook and cassette as part of the Once Upon a Time fairy tale series under the title King Rough-Beard.
- A version is told in the book Servant of the Dragon by David Drake.
- A version of the story also appears as an episode of the cartoon series Simsala Grimm.
- A version of the story is being told on Erstwhile Tales, beginning February 2014
- A retold version appeared in Play School Playhouse, a theatrical spinoff from the BBC children's programme Play School.
- In the comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham, Thrushbeard is a fable that resides at Fabletown and first appears in Fables Vol 4.
- An LGBTQ version of this story is told by Sister Unity on YouTube.