The Truth About Marie Antoinette and “Let Them Eat Cake”


Let Them Eat Cake Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat
cake”. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Of course she didn’t, she spoke
French!” But, in fact, she didn’t say “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” either.
In fact, this saying in France actually pre-dated her arrival there by anywhere from about thirty
years to as much as a century. This myth is often stated that on her way
to the guillotine, forced by a mob of starving French peasants, she exasperatedly said “let
them eat cake!” Another version says that when she heard the people were starving from
lack of bread, she suggested, “let them eat cake.” There are numerous problems with
both of these versions of the tail, but we’ll just stick with the “let them eat cake”
part. The actual saying “let them eat cake”
was first written by the political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiography
“Confessions”. At the time, Marie Antoinette was only 10 years old and living in Austria.
She didn’t come to France until four years later when she married Louis XVI. More than
that, Rousseau mentioned this same phrase in a letter written 18 years before Marie-Antoinette
was even born. In his autobiography, Rousseau references
a “great princess”, who, when told the peasants had no bread, said “Well, let them
eat brioche.” (brioche being a highly enriched bread). It is thought that either Rousseau
coined this phrase himself or he was referring to Maria-Thérèse, who had lived about 100
years before and was the wife of Louis XIV. Historians are divided on which is correct.
There is significant evidence that the French royal family believed the phrase originated
from Maria-Thérèse and it was a story passed down among them. Indeed, Louis XVIII, in a
memoir he penned in 1791, related the story of Marie-Thérèse saying this. In either
case, this statement was used to illustrate the disconnect between the aristocracy in
France and the plight of the people. Further, during a brief bread shortage in
1775, which lead to a series of riots, in a letter from Marie-Antoinette to her Austrian
family, she states the following: “It is quite certain that in seeing the people who
treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard
for their happiness.” Hardly something written by someone who was oblivious or unsympathetic
to the plight of the poor. So how did this saying get attributed to Marie
Antoinette? Primarily, because the people of France loathed her. It turns out, most
of this loathing was primarily because she was an easy and very visible target to vent
their rage against the French aristocracy on. Marie Antoinette was Austrian and before
her marriage to Louis XVI, Austria and France had been bitter enemies (in truth, things
didn’t improve too much after their union, though at least open war was avoided until
the King was eventually deposed in the revolution). Initially, her beauty, eloquence, and personality
endeared the people to her. But as matters degraded between the general public and the
aristocracy, she became the favorite member of the elite class to vilify. Throughout most
of her time in France, she was frequently accused of such things as: incest with her
son; having numerous affairs with just about every man or woman she came in contact with;
attempting to weaken France so that Austria could take over; attempting to bankrupt France
through political intrigues and lavish spending (she was nicknamed “Madame Déficit”);
attempting to siphon the funds in France’s treasury to her brother Joseph II of Austria;
attempting to defraud jewelers of the cost of a certain extremely expensive diamond necklace;
wishing to bathe in the blood of her political enemies; orchestrating orgies; being the “power
behind the throne”, influencing many of the king’s decisions that were seen as hurting
France (nicknamed “Madame Veto”); plotting to kill the Duke of Orléans; orchestrating
the massacre of Swiss Guards; etc. In reality, there is little evidence that
any of these things took place, save her lavish spending. However, her spending habits were
nothing compared to most French royalty at the time, which is somewhat surprising, considering
the Queen was expected to out-do everyone else. But it should be noted, that’s relatively
speaking. By most standards through history, her spending habits were indeed ridiculous
for most of her time as queen. She did, however, include very generous charitable
contributions to the poor of France, among her lavish spending, which also makes the
idea of her saying “let them eat cake” seem out of character, considering it represents
a level of obliviousness that doesn’t align with what is known about her. In addition to this, she had no real political
power for most of her time as queen, as her husband tended to rebuff any suggestion she
made due to the fact that she was Austrian and he was raised to distrust Austrians as
much as the people of France did. Indeed, he rarely ever spoke to her about matters
of state, fearing she might attempt to use this information to Austria’s advantage. When the king eventually withdrew from many
of his political responsibilities, due to extreme depression, she finally stepped in
to help calm matters between the assembly and the king, which had rapidly deteriorated
with the state of France. Now that she was taking part in politics, this also was criticized,
with the revolutionists accusing her of trying to bolster Austria’s position and weaken
France (which there was never any real evidence of; indeed, the evidence is quite to the contrary.
Most of her political dealings went against the interests of Austria, due to the fact
that her goal was to secure the future of her children, who were French royalty, and
that future was becoming in doubt with the state of France). At this time, she also made many enemies among
the French aristocracy for criticizing their lavish spending habits, when France was so
near bankruptcy. France’s continued financial problems at this time when she was at the
helm, also did nothing to bolster her popularity with the people, who blamed her for these
problems, despite the fact that she had little to do with it, and lacked the power to fix
it. Outside of the revolutionists, many of her rivals in court were also actively attempting
to sway the people against her by giving large donations of bread and money to them, in an
effort to undermine some of her political dealings. To make matters worse, she was also
dealing with her dying son, who she insisted on taking care of herself, rather than allowing
others to do it. He eventually died of tuberculosis. So basically, she was Austrian, a woman in
power, and one of the top members of the French aristocracy at a time when being any of these
three wasn’t looked upon highly by the general public; so she became target #1 for all their
rage against their negligent rulers. The expression itself, “let them eat cake”,
was relatively well known amongst many of the revolutionists, and they used it to personify
the disconnect between the aristocracy and the general public at this time. Post-revolution
French historians also liked to use the phrase as it summed up the extreme selfishness and
complete obliviousness of the French aristocracy during this period. So it’s not surprising
that they assigned the phrase as being spoken by her, who was their favorite target for
such things even before her death, let alone after. Her life was actually quite a sad story from
beginning to end and reputable historical accounts of herself and her actions are quite
contrary to the general perception of her, not just then, but today as well. If you’re
interested in reading more about this, Check out Marie Antoinette: The Journey, which is
a very interesting read, assuming you like biographies and are at all interested in French
history. Bonus Facts: 1) Once imprisoned after the revolution, Antoinette
vowed to no longer take part in French politics because whatever happened that was bad would
be blamed on her anyway. She, instead, devoted her time towards attending charitable events,
when allowed, and taking care of her surviving children. Of course, on September 21, 1792 the monarchy
of France was officially declared finished, and a National Convention began its rule.
At which point, the king and queen were tried separately for treason. The king was eventually
executed on January 21, 1793. In the months after, Antoinette’s health rapidly deteriorated
due to refusing to eat and the onset of tuberculosis, as well as frequent hemorrhaging, thought
to be caused by uterine cancer. Eventually, her son, the heir, was taken from her and
given to a cobbler to be “retrained” with the ideals of the revolutionists. He later
died in prison in 1795. Antoinette was given one day to prepare a
defense for herself, after being informed she would be tried. Among the charges brought
against her, were those listed previously, including incest with her son, which she initially
refused to respond to, unlike the other charges leveled against her. When pressed, she lost
her composure, which she had maintained up until that point and lamented: “If I have
not replied, it is because Nature itself refuses to respond to such a charge laid against a
mother.” This endeared her to many present, but the result of the trial had been already
decided before hand by the Committee of Public Safety. She was, thus, convicted on October the 16th
and sentenced to death. Her hair was cut off and she was driven through Paris in an open
cart to be ridiculed by the masses. After her execution, her body was buried in an unmarked
grave. It was later exhumed and given a proper burial in 1815 when the comte de Provence
became King Louis XVIII after the capture of Napoleon in 1814. Bonus Fact 2: At the time of Antoinette’s
wedding, marriages were consummated publicly in France, to prove that the union was completed.
Marriages in most cultures at this time were not official until that consummation took
place. Thus, witnesses always had to be present at the consummation. In France, at the time,
servants usually slept in the same room as their masters, so witnesses were usually present
anyways. Marie Antoinette and the King didn’t consummate their marriage for a full seven
years after the actual proxy wedding (the king was not present at the wedding). At that
time, Antoinette’s brother traveled to France and intervened, at which point the marriage
was finally consummated. Bonus Fact 3: One of the first acts Antoinette
did to displease the masses was to purchase Château de Saint-Cloud, which she intended
to leave as an inheritance to her younger children who were not heirs. The idea of a
woman owning her own property outraged many, particularly because she was the queen and
shouldn’t have a residence that was not also owned by the king.

100 thoughts on “The Truth About Marie Antoinette and “Let Them Eat Cake”

  1. A fresh breath of air clearing the acrid dense cloud of calumny passing for history.  Thank you for setting the record straight.

  2. Awesome video! Interesting how stories are retold as truth, when reality King Louis XVI foolishly agreed to send money to America to fund the American Revolution and later was guillotined (Marie also as a result) for bankrupting France. Marie and Louie the real unsung heroes of the American Revolution! Please our story as told Marie's own lips, on YouTube "The Clearing TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w57rhvCa_E

  3. I am saddened, by the story first, but by the comment section soon to follow.
    Instead of conversations about the importance of getting history right, the dangers of a blind mob, the problems with harsh political bias, and the hypocrisy of people demanding order yet when they get power they become ruthless unjust killers; I saw people criticizing Simon's french, throwing claims that were refuted by the video just to make their hate towards her valid, claiming that the human race is beyond saving, or using this video to promote their own biased unjust political agendas.
    If there's anything that history tells us, is to keep this comment section as far away as possible from a voice, cause the chance they have to learn about history has been tossed away by them to shout louder.
    With all that being said it seems like a waste to write out this comment, nothing but juice for my own ego, but in truth if one person would read this and will take something away from it I would be ecstatic.

  4. The same thing is happening in Thailand by the fucked up corrupted ex-prime minister named Thaksin and his family members against the royal family. Trying every dirty aspect from misleading, fault accusation, encourage riot, even orchestrate the kill of his own 100 peoples to blame royal family.

  5. There’s another fact! She designed a white little muslin dress with her designer. When she wore it for a portrait, she was criticised as it was too simple and it was as if she was wearing her undergarments. Yet, the french revolutionary women ended up wearing dresses in the same style as it was simple and kinda cheap. Ironic, isn’t it? Also, although she did spend a lot, she was spending very little in comparison to the other members. Any lesser would have gotten her a scolding!

  6. In French, she said "S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche." (If they don't have bread, let them eat brioche), brioche (pronouce bree-au-sh) being a type of sooft bread (not sugary) that, at the time, was way more expensive than normal bread. Today, we eat brioche for breakfast, in slices, with jam/marmelade (confiture in french). But brioche is not cake at all.

  7. The French, during the French Revolution, burned all of my French aristocratic ancestors family documents so I'm a little bias (that's a lot of "French" in one sentence)

  8. This reminds me of the film Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst. I felt sorry for Marie Antoinette because in the film, she loses self-esteem and feels unloved because her husband won't consummate marriage (It is weird that Louis XVI did not consummate marriage for seven years until her brother-in-law intervened, because when I look at the prevalent hookup culture, sex does not necessarily require feelings of affection). Anyways, I find it appalling that there were witnesses to the consummation of marriage in the royal family.

  9. Wait…you’re telling me that for a marriage to be considered valid in 18th century France, people had to WATCH the two of them fuck?

    That’s…kinda hot. Viva La France indeed! XD

  10. Fine and definitely history I had never previously heard or learned of. Regarding her execution by guillotine, I think to have heard of this during my youth (am 61 today, really next month, March 2018), but what I recall much more is that some people spoke of her being despised in serious part due to her having used the guillotine (I suppose through her soldiers or law enforcers) to execute many people. That part apparently is a myth. You made no mention of her having had people executed in this manner, and neither do the Wikipedia pages for Guillotine and Marie Antoinette. History.com also has a page about her and it additionally speaks of her execution by guillotine, but makes no other mention of the word. So, I`ve lived believing the now apparent myth for several decades. "Fun life", not quite.

  11. MA caught a lot if hell, then and now but really, you have to look at it the way it really was. She was 14 when she was basically sold to the French court. I have a 14 year old daughter. I couldn't imagine what it would be like for her if one day I popped in and said "Ok, baby. Pack your bags. You're going to France to marry a stranger and you can never come back." She was 14. There was also the pesky prpblem that her new husband wouldn't touch her for 8 years, leading everyone to believe she was barren. Failure to produce an heir in a royal marriage was a dangerous scenario. At best, it was grounds for an annullment, forfeiture of all titles, and property. At worst, the king had the right to kill his wife for it. She hosted parties and spent lavishly on clothes, furs, and jewels and surrounded he self with close friends to keep up the illusion of a happy and content wife. She rarely ventured beyond Versailles and when she did, it was always heavily sanitized so she never saw just how bad things were. She had Petite Triannon, a refuge given to her by Louis was supposed to represent the pastoral lifestyle of non royals. She and her friends would dress up in linen gowns and frolic with sheep, coats and chickens that had been bathed in perfume to cover the smell. Workers would follow the animals, picking up their droppings so the queen wouldn't see them. Eggs were washed and milk was first taken, separated, and poured into China (the scene in the movie was correct) butterflies were even brought in to create the illusion that the simple, pastoral life of a peasant, was ideallic, charming and sweet. She wasn't a bad person. She was young, sheltered and completely oblivious to what was actually going on.

  12. Bonus fact: there we're rumors that she had an affair with princess de lamballe. Lamballe was killed in a riot due to these rumors.

  13. To Hell with Aristocracy! Beware modern sympathizers of Capitalist aristocracy pitchforks are coming!
    Vive la révolution!

  14. I haven’t read much about the French Revolution really.
    My grandfather told me that my ancestors were tax collectors before and during the chaos of it all.
    From what I could find two of my ancestors fled to America and changed the spelling of their last names to what mine is now. Le Barbeirre etc etc to Barbaree etc etc. One ancestor went to New Orleans and others to New York and Charleston, South Carolina…
    People keep asking if I’m related to any royalty because of my resemblance to King George V and Czar Nicolas II…and my last name for some reason and my relation to Arthur Middleton and other Middletons.

    Give me a list of some books I should read. If so I would really appreciate it!!!

  15. So basically Fate Grand Order Marie is actually closer to the original lady who lived rather than the one told in history…
    Makes me respect those who researched her thoroughly.
    …wonder why she doesn't have the skill innocent monster…

  16. Louis XVI didn't go bankrupt. The french Revolution did it at least 6 times, but only after the death of Louis XVI and his queen. The problem could actually be fix with an equal tax for all, the stand of the King. As before the french people (even the Third state) was enjoying one of the lowest tax rate in Europe, that would have go perfectly fine.  Except the nobles and the riches bourgeois were against that idea that was push by the Monarchy since half a century. So they destroy the monarchy and declare war to all of Europe. (Not the opposite; it's not the aggrievated Austria, England or whatever that declare war) They would plunder Europe until 1804 (almost no taxes!!! they…pillaged? instead.) Then the war would turn increasingly in their disfavour.  (More & more taxes, on the back of the poor, now conscripted in great number) The tax reform wanted by Louis XVI and is grand-father before him will be (mostly) implanted in 1930, by a socialist governement who despise him and didn't remember at all what he had try to accomplish.

  17. Consummation were NOT public event then (I'm a french historian), but it was rather a festive event after the wedding meal to accompany wife and husband to bed. Something of a tradition English protestant DIDN'T understand at the time but  the ritual WAS QUITE CLEAR & UNDERSTOOD by the french local as meaning TO LET BOTH the wife and the man ALONE (or one with each other) immediately afterward. If you want exotic and inappropriate for us modern, the Queen of »France should gave birth in public at the Court, so that no babies mix up could ever happen.

  18. Now that you know the truth about Marie Antoinette saying "Let Them Eat Cake" check out this video and find out How the Practice of Women Jumping Out of Cakes Got Started:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe29J_XuGJM

  19. it's really sad to see that all prominent female figures in history are always hated by the society despite their best interests and best effort. Cleopatra, Marie and Hypatia are some of the few… Sure there have been figures like Bloody Mary but who know how much is fabricated ??

  20. Is it weird that this video reminds me of peoples reaction (to this day) when trump became president? Not saying he is a "good guy", but so far I see the biggest damage being caused by the people who have an insane hate for him and blame him for stuff without any actual evidence.

  21. There is another Marie Antoinette in Malaysia. She is Rosmah Mansor, the wife of ex PM Najib Razak. She copied and pasted everything Marie did – from her hairstyles to her ridiculous collections of Hermis bags, Birkins and all that glitters. The poor Malaysians, like the poor peasants of the French Revolution, overthrew Rosmah in the 2018 election.

  22. One of the better put together bio's on the life of Marie A. You even provided information that I personally never heard of before.

  23. Bonus fact: The French have placed a Ferris wheel in the location where Marie Antoinette was executed, which goes to show just how bitter the French can be.

  24. She was only a misunderstood Monarch. The previous Monarchs of France spends too much than her, it's just that Louis spent too much to support the independence of America from England that her lavish spending was believed to cause the hunger of their country.

  25. All this seems a bit familiar, eh? The left's attacks on Trump; how they make up things out of whole cloth that have no reality. Any party or faction out of power will always react, as a first step, by trying to bring down those that actually have power. If they can remove the people's support from their enemies, then the enemies can be removed or assassinated with little immediate consequences. Later on, of course, it can come back to bite them in the ass as the Soviets discovered in the early 90s.

  26. for those who think marie is some saint or scapegoat…fact,she is reluctantly wasting nation resources..having celebrity life…and her husband is not a good king..more like a peasant wannabe..so did the rebellion justify everything?of course…did the execution justify everything?kinda…an outcast should be good…but better been killed..dont want another rebellion to get the thrones back…the problem with monarch is,like tyrion Lannister said,"a king shouldn't be born"…meaning,just because u some royal doesn't justify u going to be a good king/leader…

  27. I believe you to be sadly misguided. Brioche is not even the french word for "cake" she would have used in the 1700's………

  28. I've completely become a Marie Antoinette sympathizer as of late. I really do believe she was just a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody gave a crap about her in the end and she did not deserve what happened to her.

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