The White Bride and the Black Bride is a German folktale collected by the brothers Grimm that they heard from an unespecified member of the von Haxthausen family, first published in 1815 in the second volume of Children and Household's Tales first edition.
Before the brothers Grimm published this tale there were already plenty of stories about brides who in their journey to meet their betrothed they’re supplanted by a less attractive, antagonic figure. In the second volume of Il Pentamerone by Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile, posthumously published in 1636, we find the tale of The Two Cakes, about a girl named Marziella who is rewarded for having shared her cake with an old beggar woman to have roses and jasmines fall from her mouth every time she speaks, pearls and garnets from her hair every time she combs it and lilies and violets will grow from the ground she passes by. Those gifts catch the attention of a king, who decides to have Marziella for his wife, but during the trip to the kingdom Marziella is thrown overboard and her cousin Puccia, who refused to share her cake with the same old beggar and as a result was punished, takes her place. When the king sees Puccia he believes Marziella’s brother, Ciommo, was trying to deceive him when he told him about his sister and he punishes him to take care of the geese. Marziella, who was rescued from being drowned by mermaids, is finally rescued once the king learns about her whereabouts. The episodes of a character asking the villain about what punishment deserve an evil doer, describing their wrong doings but pretending like they’re not talking about them, with the antagonist falling for it and choosing their own demise, is a pretty common episode in several of Basile’s tales, like Nennillo and Nennella and The Three Citrons, and became common in Grimm’s tales as well, as we can see not only in this one but also in The Goose Girl and The Three Little Men in the Woods.
French writer Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy wrote two tales that could be considered influences in this tale. The first, Princess Rosette, published in 1697, tells the story of a princess who after seeing a peacock wants to marry their king, and after her brothers show her portrait to the king he orders them to fetch their sister to bring her to his kingdom so he can marry her. But during the trip the princess is thrown overboard while she’s sleeping by the captain who was bribed by the princess’ nurse, whose daughter takes the princess’ place. When the King of Peacocks sees that the girl who has come and says to be the princess doesn’t look or act like the girl from the portrait he was shown he gives the brothers seven days to prove their innocence, sentencing them to death if they fail. Meanwhile Rosette, who survived, arrives at the same kingdom and manages to help her brothers prove they have nothing to do with the nurse’s scheme. In the second one, The Hind in the Woods, published in 1698, the princess is, like in Grimm’s tale, turned into an animal on her way to meet the prince who wants to marry her after seeing her portrait, only in this case is a hind instead of a duck, and instead of her step-sister one of the princess’ maids is the one who takes the princess’ place and pretends to be her.
A woman goes to the field to gather herbs with her daughter and her step daughter, and while they’re on it a beggar approaches them asking for the way to town. While the mother and her daughter tell the beggar to go look for the path himself, the step-daughter offers herself to help him. When they’re nearby town the beggar, who’s actually God in disguise, asks the girl what three wishes she wants to have granted as reward for her generosity. For her first wish the girl asks to be as shiny and beautiful as the Sun, for the second to have a purse with money that will never be empty, and before she asks for the third the beggar reminds her not to forget the most important wish, her soul’s salvation. After being granted the three wishes by the beggar the girl returns with her step-mother and step-sister with becoming as black as pitch and ugly as sin as punishment for being mean and rude to the beggar, which causes them to resent and hate the step-daughter even more than before. The only moments the girl finds peace is when her brother Reginer, who works at the royal palace as a coachman, comes to visit her. In his last visit when the brother sees how beautiful his sister has become since the last time he saw her he asks her what happened, and after the sister tells him he asks her to let him paint a portrait of her to bring it to the palace so they can admire her even when she’s not around. The sister agrees under the condition that no one but him can see it. Despite that some courtiers catch the brother when he’s looking at the portrait and tell the king, who when he sees the portrait he’s impressed by how much the lady on it looks like his deceased wife, and asks the brother who she is. Reginer tells the king the lady in the portrait is his sister, and the king decides he must marry her, so he sends the brother to fetch her.
When the step-sister hears Reginer tell the sister that the king wants to marry her, she asks her mother why she hasn’t been able to make the king fall in love with her despite the fact she’s a witch. But the step-mother is already plotting to make the king marry her own daughter instead of her step-daughter, and on the ride to the palace the witch uses her magic to make her step-son not see well and her step-daughter not hear well, so each of the three times her brother tells her to cover herself so the wind and the rain won’t hurt her, the girl asks her step-mother what her brother is saying. The first time the step-mother tells her to give her dress to her step-daughter, the second her golden hood, and the third to take a look out of the carriage when they’re crossing a bridge. While the step-daughter is looking out her step-mother and step-sister push her, making her fall into the water, and right after that happens from the waters a white duck appears. Because of her step-mother’s spell, Reginer doesn’t notice anything until they arrive at the palace and the king sees that, instead of the maiden from the portrait, a different woman comes out of the carriage. Enraged, the king orders that the brother must be thrown at a pit full of vipers, but before he can think of a punishment for the false bride and her mother they put a spell on him that makes him fall in love with the imposter.
One evening a white duck gets in the kitchen through the gutter and asks the kitchen-boy to light a fire so she can warm herself. While the duck is sitting by the fire she asks the kitchen-boy first for the coachman and then for the black bride. After the kitchen-boy replies that Reginer is in the viper pit and the black bride is in the king’s arms, the duck mourns about it and leaves through the same gutter. After the same event happens the two following nights in a row the kitchen-boy tells the king about the mysterious duck, and that same night the king waits in the kitchen to see it with his own eyes. The moment he sees the duck coming out from the gutter he cuts her head off with a sword, and the duck turns into a maiden identical to the one the king saw in the portrait. After being given dry clothes to change, the girl explains to the king her evil step-mother’s schemes. Then the king approaches the step-mother and tells him a story about some who has committed the same misdeed she did, asking her what would be the most appropriate punishment for them. Not realising the king is talking about her the step-mother suggests to put the evil-doer naked inside a barrel filled of nails, and then have the barrel harnessed to a horse so it will drag the barrel through the whole wide world. The exact punishment is applied to the step-mother and her daughter, while Reginer was rescued from the viper pit and rewarded, and his sister married the king.