The spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty

The tale as we know it

When a princess is born, the King and Queen invite a number of fairies to the Christening. They either forget or choose to forget to invite a bad fairy who promptly turns up and puts a curse on the baby. When the child reaches sixteen years of age she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. A tad extreme perhaps. One of the good fairies manages to weaken the spell so that she will actually only sleep for one hundred years.

On the day of her sixteen birthday, the princess wanders into a room in the castle, finds an old lady with a spinning wheel and has the urge to put her finger on the sharpest possible part of it. She instantly falls asleep along with everyone else in the castle. 

At a later point, a handsome young prince rides past the castle which is now over grown with weeds and wanders in after hearing the tragic story. He finds ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and cannot resist the urge to kiss her. Mwah. She flutters her eyelashes and without questioning why this stranger has kissed her agrees to marry him and they all live happily ever after.

History and Trivia

The earliest known written version of this story comes from fourteenth century France, entitled Perceforest. It is believed however that there are earlier tales of sleeping princesses which date back over one thousand years and come from Persia.

There are many versions of this classic tale although some can be pretty dark. Charles Perrault’s version takes a turn for the worse after the princess is awoken by her prince. His mother is actually a child eating ogress!  We are probably much more familiar with the Brother’s Grimm tale of Little Briar Rose who is discovered one hundred years after pricking her finger (luckily for him though, she hasn’t aged).

‘The Sleeping Beauty. A Grand Legendary Melodrama’ was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre in 1806. It wasn’t until 1890 that Tchaikovsky wrote the famous ballet about the sleeping princess.

In 1822 Joseph Grimaldi, one of the first and most recognisable pantomime actors of the period performed in the ‘Harlequin and the Orgess’ (‘The Sleeping Beauty’).

The comic relief these days is performed by a character usually known as ‘Muddles’ while the Dame is affectionately referred to as the ‘Queen of Hearts’.

There is much debate as to whether you could actually prick your finger on a spinning wheel and die (although this does depend on the severity of the bad fairy’s curse). In the film version that Walt Disney made so famous and most of us instantly recognise, princess Aurora actually cuts her finger on the distaff. 

In 1636, Italian author Basile tells of a (practical) princess in ‘Sun, Moon and Talia’ who is spinning with flax. It is possible that she should could have actually received a flax splinter under the nail and the damage was done this way.