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Queen Marie-Antoinette
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The Story Behind ‘Let Them Eat Cake’, Marie-Antoinette’s Famous Quote

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12/17/20

Let Them Eat Cake, Marie-Antoinette’s unforgettable words are among the most famous quotes in history. Did Marie-Antoinette say Let Them Eat Cake?. Why was Let Them Eat Cake offensive?

Marie-Antoinette was King Louis XVI’s wife and the 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 Cake’ in French.

Because brioche is more expensive than bread, the anecdote has been cited as an example of 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.

Who Was Marie-Antoinette?

Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna (1755 -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 of the French throne), Louis Auguste. This arranged marriage was an attempt at reconciliations between Austria and France.

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

By 1774, King Louis XV died, and the Dauphin ascended to the throne with the name of 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 Palace 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.

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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, 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 Paris was starving.

Did Marie-Antoinette Say Let Them Eat Cake?

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

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.

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.

Queen Marie Antoinette Actually Cared About Her People

Despite Marie-Antoinette’s undeniably lavish lifestyle, historians agree that she was an intelligent woman who displayed sensitivity towards 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.

In any case, this statement 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.

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.

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