Illustration from "The Twelve Dancing Princesses in Powder and Crinoline: Old Fairy Tales by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Kay Nielsen, illustrator, 1913
Illustration from “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in Powder and Crinoline: Old Fairy Tales by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Kay Nielsen, illustrator, 1913.

“The Seven Iron Slippers” is a Portugese tale similar to the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It was told by Consiglieri Pedrosoin in Portugese Folk-Tales, 1882.

A king had one daughter. Every evening, the princess wore out seven pairs of iron slippers, and the king couldn’t figure out how this happened. He issued a decree issued a decree, that whoever found out how the princess wore out the shoes would be given the princess in marriage if it was a man or a prince if it was a woman. I like the equal opportunity here.

Meanwhile, a soldier was wandering around the countryside and tricked people out of a cap that could turn him invisible and a pair of boots that could take him wherever he told them too. He had the boots take him to the city where he heard about the king’s challenge. He figured that he could find out what the princess was up to with the help of his cap and boots.  He met with the king who gave him three days to figure out the mystery. If he hadn’t by the end of that time, he would be put to death. The soldier accepted. He slept that night in the princesses room, but she gave him a drink before bed which contained a sleeping draught, so he slept through the whole night and didn’t see the princess do anything. The same thing happened the second night. The third night, he got smart and just pretended to drink it and fall asleep, so when the princess slipped out, he followed her, his cap making him invisible. Notice, the princess didn’t have any qualms about sentencing the soldier to death.

The princess, sure that the soldier was asleep, headed out for the evening. The soldier followed her into the carriage to the land  of the giants. They passed three sentinels who knew the princess and could apparently see the soldier, telling her to pass “with her suite,” even though no one else could see him. After a while they entered a gorgeous palace. The princess went in tot he ball room where there were a great many giants. The princess sat on a bench beside her lover, a giant, and the soldier hid himself under their seat. As the couple danced, the princess went through all the shoes, throwing them under the bench where the soldier collected them. After the ball, the princess and her giant sat down to talk and the soldier toppled over their seat Seems a stupid move, but it comes into play at the end of the story. They were of course surprised, and searched for someone, but couldn’t find him. Remember, he had the invisibility cap. Those are useful.

Next comes an odd bit: “The giants then looked out for a book of fates they had, wherein could be seen the course of the winds and other auguries peculiar to their race. They called in a black servant to read in the book and find out what was the matter. The soldier rose up from where he was and said, “Cap, make me invisible.” He then gave the negro a slap on the face, the negro fell to the ground, while he took possession of the book and kept it.”

Eventually the night is over and the princess headed home. The soldier used his boots to get there first. He got back into bed and pretended to be sound asleep when the princess returned.

The next morning the king asked if the soldier found anything out. The soldier said he didn’t and the king replied that he must be put to death that day. “When the princess heard this she rejoiced much.” The soldier stated that if that was true than he must just have patience. I’m not sure why the soldier went through this charade.

So everything was set up for the execution and as a last wish, the soldier requested that the princess be present. She was brought and the soldier asked her if it was true she went out at midnight. She said no. Then he asked if it was true that she went to the kingdom of the giants. She said no. He asked if it was true she ruined seven pairs of slippers while she danced and shower them to her. Still, she said no. Finally, he asked, “Is it true to say that the princess at the end of the ball fell on the floor from her seat, and the giants had a book brought to them to see what bewitchery and magic pervaded and had taken possession of the house, and which book is here?” and showed her the book. She admitted that it was so.

The king is happy to know the truth, and the soldier married the princess and lived in the palace. The end.

I can’t imagine that could possibly be a happy marriage. First off, she was in love with someone else, a giant no less. Second, she had been delighted that the soldier was going to be killed. Third, if there were princes around for a woman to marry should she have discovered the secret, the soldier and the princess are probably not going to inherit the kingdom when the king dies. I like to imagine the giant came for his beloved, carried her off and they lived happily ever after.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


  • That is a strange one. Something about the fact that it was a book made her confess the truth pleases me, though. Why would he want to marry someone who was happy hear he would die? I don’t get it either. And the soldier doesn’t seem a very nice fellow, either to my mind. I’ve seen that picture before, don’t you think that prince looks very feminine? Look at his high heel shoes!

    • I guess the soldier’s not exactly nice, but I don’t see him as a bad guy either. He just takes advantage of the situations he finds himself in.

  • I agree with you that the soldier doesn’t sounds mean, and I’d like to think that they end up loving each other. And who wouldn’t love having a cap that makes you invisible and boots that took you wherever you wanted to go? I know I would 🙂

    Besides, a princess being married to a giant is just weird.

  • aigle

    I can see why she was happy that the man might die, it would mean that she wasn’t caught, that she could continue to be with her giant (keep in mind some giants then weren’t the super huge giants but sometimes just large people with above average height). Besides it’s not really her fault that the execution was a stipulation, that was her father’s doing either to make the people work harder in discovering what was happening or pressure the princess in confessing.

    I have doubts that it was a happy marriage, perhaps she grew to tolerate and even love him given that princesses were often used as bargaining chips for political marriages she may have been resigned to such a fate. It is sad that she did love someone (perhaps it was that teenage infatuation type of love) but was handed off as a prize for solving what happened to some iron shoes. Really you’d think her father would still execute the solider and marry her off to the giant, surely he has a status and possible wealth, and being allies with the giants would be very beneficial regardless of how clever the solider might be.

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