The Three Heads of the Well

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The Three Heads in the Well is a fairy tale collected by Joseph Jacobs in English Fairy Tales.[1]

It is Aarne-Thompson tale 480, the kind and the unkind girls. Others of this type include Shita-kiri Suzume, Diamonds and Toads, Mother Hulda, Father Frost, The Three Little Men in the Wood, The Enchanted Wreath, The Old Witch, and The Two Caskets.[2] Literary variants include The Three Fairies and Aurore and Aimée.[3]


In the days before King Arthur, a king held his court in Colchester. He had a beautiful daughter by his beautiful wife, but when his wife died, he married a hideous widow with a daughter of her own, for her riches, and his new wife set him against his daughter. His daughter begged leave to go and seek her fortune, and he permitted it, and his wife gave her brown bread, hard cheese, and a bottle of beer.

She goes on her way and sees an old man sitting on a stone. When he asks what she has, she tells him and offers him some. After they eat, he tells her how to get through a hedge, and that she will find three golden heads in a well there, and should do whatever they tell her.

The heads ask her to comb them and wash them, and after she does so, one says she shall be beautiful, the next that she will have a sweet voice, and the third that she shall be fortunate and queen to the greatest prince that reigns.

She goes on, and a king sees her and falls in love with her. They marry and go back to visit her father. Her stepmother is enraged that her stepdaughter and not her daughter gained all this, and sent her daughter on the same journey, with rich dresses, sugar, almonds, sweetmeats, and a bottle of rich wine. The daughter was rude to the old man, and slighted the three heads, and they curse her with leprosy, a harsh voice, and marriage to a cobbler.

She goes on. A cobbler offers to cure her leprosy and voice if she will marry him, and she agrees.

Her mother, finding she had married a cobbler, hangs herself, and the king gives his stepdaughter's husband a hundred pounds to quit the court and live elsewhere.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, "The Three Heads in the Well"
  2. ^ Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to Diamonds and Toads"
  3. ^ Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 543, ISBN 0-393-97636-X