Late in her rule, Marie-Antoinette certainly wasn’t a popular monarch. In fact, most everyone hated her, all over a silly, unforgettable phrase. Well, it turns out that her seemingly justifiable execution wasn’t all that sweet…because she probably didn’t say something so snide after all.
That went downhill quickly
Marie-Antoinette had a pretty crummy reputation near the end, but she certainly lived a sweet early life. The former queen rose to idol-status in her early teens, and people were willing to be crushed in crowds to get a glimpse of her. Epic, right? She also inspired countless artwork, fashion, and even had a fairytale village constructed for her. So why all the hate?
Unfortunately, her precious reputation wore away as she took on her position as Queen of France. One specific rumor tore her to shreds in the public’s eyes. Supposedly, when informed of how her French peasants were starving, she dismissively announced “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, or “Let them eat cake.” However, this doesn’t quite line up with the charitable queen’s character.
I don’t know, guys, she seems pretty nice
The final Queen of France may have grown up with the royal treatment, but she wasn’t a stuck-up jerk. In fact, Marie-Antoinette was super charitable and often involved herself in philanthropy work. She relieved the public of an outdated “Queen’s Belt” tax, helped the aging and disabled, adopted suffering orphans, and often housed the homeless at her farm. Does this sound like a malicious ruler to you?
Sadly, revolutionary women in history often get crapped on the most, and she became more disliked as she instituted kinder and fairer social and economic practices. This may be why false rumors of her seemingly unkind words towards the starving were used to challenge her reputation. But where did the phrase actually originate?
Apparently, everyone was a jerk
The phrase “Let them eat cake” isn’t just some strange statement that was pulled out of thin air to crucify Marie-Antoinette. She ultimately went down on a lump-sum of cooky charges…so why throw another obscure accusation in there? Well, the phrase didn’t originate as a tool against the French queen. It was an accusation that had been thrown around long before her time.
The same phrase had been contorted to label other rulers as heartless, such as Marie-Thérèse, another one of King Louis XIV wives, and other members of his family. It was also a line in “Confessions,” a novel by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, written when Marie-Antoinette was only 10. So, she may have been guilty of some crimes…but being selfish wasn’t one.