Marie Antoinette: Let them eat cake
Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. Her name was associated with selfishness, immorality, and being superficial. Her lavish lifestyle is believed to have contributed to the increase of economic inequality during her reign. Still, there were many false accusations attributed to her name which historians stressed were untrue.
The truth behind her famous “Let them eat cake” quote
One of the most famous quotes in history is “let them eat cake” which Marie Antoinette allegedly quipped in 1789. According to some accounts, when Marie-Antoinette was told by her French subjects that they had no bread, she retorted: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake). Clearly completely out of touch with her kingdom, Marie Antoinette came represent the corrupt monarchy. Her alleged “Let them eat cake” reply also fueled the revolution, which led to the uprooting of centuries-old institutions such as the absolute monarchy and Marie Antoinette’s untimely death.
According to Lady Antonia Fraser, the author of a biography of the French queen, it would have been highly uncharacteristic of Marie Antoinette to say something so callous. Fraser argued that while the queen was selfish and frivolous, she was an intelligent woman who gave generously to charitable causes. Moreover, despite Marie Antoinette’s excessive lifestyle, she showed sensitivity and concern toward the poor people of France.
To understand the absurdity of the claim, it is important to point out that the “Let them eat cake” story had been circulating for years, long before the Austrian-born Marie Antoinette became queen. The French people had long been attributing this remark to the foreign queens of French Kings for many decades. The story was a way the French people expressed their frustrations with the crown. Author Caroline Weber also argued that as economic inequality grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was more acceptable for the people to think that a foreign-born queen was insensitive to their plight rather than the French king himself.