“Let Them Eat Cake” — Meaning & Story Behind This Famous Quote

Who coined the phrase “Let Them Eat Cake”? Why was “Let Them Eat Cake” offensive?

Let Them Eat Cake, Marie-Antoinette’s unforgettable words, are among the most famous quotes in history. Here’s the “Let Them Eat Cake” meaning (in the particular context of the French Revolution) and the story behind this quote.

Queen Marie-Antoinette

Who Was Marie-Antoinette?

Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna (Vienna 1755 – Paris 1793) was an Austrian princess born and raised in Vienna’s court. At the age of 13, Marie-Antoinette was betrothed to the Dauphin of France (the heir to the French throne), Louis Auguste. This arranged marriage was an attempt at reconciliation between Austria and France.

Marie-Antoinette arrived in Versailles in 1770, and she lived in the opulent Château with her husband, the Dauphin.

By 1774, King Louis XV died, and the Dauphin ascended to the throne with the name of King Louis XVI. Before the age of 20, Marie-Antoinette was already Queen of France.

Marie-Antoinette had a lavish lifestyle, and she liked to organize great balls in the Château or extravagant parties in the Gardens of Versailles. When she needed to escape the French court’s rigors, she traveled incognito to Paris or spent her time “playing the peasant” in the hamlet built for her inside Versailles.

Despite her position as Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette had no power. She still was an Austrian who never broke ties with her family in Vienna, so King Louis XVI never discussed politics or asked her advice on state affairs. Apart from her lavish parties, charitable works, and producing heirs to the French throne, the Queen of France could not do much more.

At the beginning of her life in the French court, Marie-Antoinette was generally liked by everyone, and she was known for her beauty and generosity. Over the years, there was a growing dissent against the Queen’s lavish life and crazy parties, especially when all of Paris was starving.

Marie-Antoinette — Let Them Cake Meaning

Marie-Antoinette was Queen of France during the French Revolution. At some point around 1789, when being told that her starving subjects had no bread, Marie-Antoinette supposedly sniffed, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” — “Let Them Eat Brioche” or “Let Them Eat Cake” in French.

LET THEM EAT CAKE OBLIVIOUSNESS MEANING: because brioche is more expensive than bread, the anecdote has been cited as an example of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s obliviousness to ordinary people’s conditions and daily lives in France. With that insensitive remark, the Queen became a hated symbol of the decadent monarchy and fueled the Revolution that would cause her to (literally) lose her head in 1793.

Did Marie-Antoinette Say Let Them Eat Cake?

According to historians, the Marie-Antoinette “Let Them Eat Cake” quote was, in reality, a false rumor. The evidence suggests that Queen Marie-Antoinette did not say Let Them Eat Cake and that it was somebody else who uttered the famous quote “Let Them Eat Cake” long before Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France.

Then, who said “Let Them Eat Cake”? Here’s what we know:

1. We Find Versions of Marie-Antoinette’s Quote Let Them Eat Cake Years Before

Scholars of folklore have found versions of the same quote, with some variations, across Europe. In Germany’s 16th century, there was a story of a noblewoman wondering why the hungry peasants didn’t eat Krosem, a kind of sweet bread.

In France, we find the quote “Qu’ils Mangent de la Brioche” uttered by a “great princess” in Rousseau’s autobiography Confessions. Rousseau’s book was written in 1767, when Marie-Antoinette was only ten years old and still lived in Austria, far from the French court.

Our two suspects

< Queen Marie-Therese and Rousseau ^

Who said Let Them Eat Cake? It is believed that Rousseau either coined this Let Them Eat Cake quote himself, or he was referring to Queen Maria-Thérèse, who was the wife of King Louis XIV and lived about 100 years before Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France.

TIP: These are the best Parisian Cakes, born and perfected in Paris!

2. Queen Marie Antoinette Actually Cared About Her People

Despite Queen Marie-Antoinette’s undeniably lavish lifestyle, historians agree that she was an intelligent woman who displayed sensitivity toward France’s poor, starving population.

During her life in the French court, Queen Marie-Antoinette donated generously to charitable causes. In some letters to her family in Austria, we can also see that she cares about her people, perhaps in her own way.

Many claim that the “Marie-Antoinette quote” was the work of the revolutionaries who concocted terrible rumors about her in order to have a powerful figure to blame and rally against during the French Revolution. While she may have been a part of the corrupt French Monarchy, her husband’s family had ruined it long before she came around.

In any case, this Let Them Cake story was used to illustrate the gap between the aristocracy in France and its plight.

Trying to Kill the Rumors

So it seems that the Marie-Antoinette quote “Let Them Eat Cake” was likely later attributed to account for her decreased popularity. Poor Marie-Antoinette! Just like with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, her reputation was tarnished forever because of somebody else’s quote.

The first time the quote was connected to the doomed Queen in print was in 1843. A French writer named Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr reported finding the quote “Let Them Eat Cake” in a book from 1760 when Marie-Antoinette was just five years old. Karr hoped this would end the rumor that she was responsible for the famous quote once and for all, but it did not work.

Additionally, Antonia Fraser, author of the biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey, believes that the Queen showed sensitivity towards her subjects, and this would have been something very out of character for her to have said. Fraser’s biography is a wonderful resource to look into for those who would like to learn more about the true character of Marie Antoinette.

Other Famous Marie-Antoinette Quotes

While Queen Marie-Antoinette is remembered for being overthrown by revolutionaries and guillotined for treason after the fall of the French monarchy, she has some very thought-provoking quotes. They make us wonder whether Queen Marie-Antoinette was actually as evil as history portrays her.

“When everyone else is losing their heads, it is important to keep yours.” 

“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.”

“Courage! I have shown it for years; think you I shall lose it at the moment when my sufferings are to end?” 

“I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.”

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Quirky Parisian explorer with a preference for lesser-known sights, I am continuously looking for new ideas and tips to bring you the best of the City of Light! Read more about me.