Let Them Eat Cake: About Marie Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette of France was born on this day, 264 years ago.

I’ve been fascinated  for several years by the image of this queen. Paintings made of Marie-Antoinette show a fashionable, eccentric lady who stares back at you in a most captivating way. A lot has been said and written about her, in this article I’ll focus on the famous sentence ascribed to Marie Antoinette: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake). Quick side note: cake and brioche are not the same but the message is clear: this expression is directed at peasants or rather poor peasants who actually couldn’t afford such  food.

Did these words come from Marie-Antoinette herself though? It’s easy to attribute such a quote to a young 18th century queen with a lavish garderobe, beautiful jewels and likely not that much knowledge about the lives of everyday people. Or was it sarcasm?

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica though so far no evidence of the ‘Let them eat cake’ claim has been found in writings published about the queen in the 1780′. Several pamplets with stories about the queen did circulate during that era, but the information they spread was often false. By associating such a phrase with the queen, an impression of unconcern for the French population was created  (Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, 2006)

Thus, it’s not very likely Marie-Antoinette ever uttered the words “Let them eat cake”.

*Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, French online journal Libération, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 495 P.


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