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Is there any evidence that Queen Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake"?

It is often purported that she said this in response to learning that the peasants had no bread to eat.

  • 1
    I researched this question before asking it and have answered it myself, we are allowed to do this. I have phrased the question to reflect this intention. – Morgoth Apr 28 '17 at 17:33
  • 1
    I always heard let them eat brioches, not cakes... – Bakuriu Apr 29 '17 at 10:12
  • 1
    @Bakuriu Brioche is translated as "cake": there's no exact equivalent word in English. Brioches are cake-like, in containing egg (though I think no sugar). – ChrisW Apr 30 '17 at 11:50
  • Also not that the phrase could also be used for the intention "Give them bread to eat". – liftarn May 2 '17 at 9:15
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There is no good evidence to suggest she said this.

Marie's Timeline

1755 - Born
1774 (aged 18) - Became Queen
1792 (aged 35) - Monarchy abolished
1793 (aged 37) - Executed

Oldest attribution

The oldest attribution of the quote to Marie was published by Alphonse Karr in Les guêpes: Volume 11 in January 1843:

On se rappelle quelle indignation on excita, dans le temps, contre la malheureuse reine Marie-Antoinette, — en faisant courir le bruit — que, entendant dire que le peuple était malheureux et qu'il n'avait pas de pain, — elle avait répondu : "eh bien ! qu'il mange de la brioche". Le hasard m'a fait un de ces jours derniers rencontrer un livre daté de 1760 — où on raconte le même mot d'une du chesse de Toscane, — ce qui me parait prouver à peu près que le mot n'a pas élé dit par Marie-Antoinette, mais retrouvé et mis en circulation contre elle.

Translated to:

It has been recorded how indignantly they stirred, at the time, against the unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette, by starting a rumour that, upon hearing that the people were unhappy and that they had no bread, she replied: "Well, let them eat some cake." I recently chanced upon a book dated from 1760 - in which the same phrase is attributed to one of the Tuscan Duchesses, - which seems to me to prove more or less that the phrase was not said by Marie-Antoinette, but found and put into circulation against her.

Potential source of the rumour

In Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Lady Antonia Fraser, Fraser shows that this phrase had become a cliché associated with different female nobility over the years:

Principal among them must be the notorious incident which has Marie Antoinette urging the poor, being without bread, to eat cake. This story was first told about the Spanish Princess who married Louis XIV a hundred years before the arrival of Marie Antoinette in France; it continued to be repeated about a series of other Princesses.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in book 6 of his autobiography titled The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau, says:

At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, “Then let them eat pastry!”

Some points to note about this quote:

  1. He does not mention who this great princess was.
  2. Marie would have been 8 when he would have recalled this story in 1764.
  3. Marie didn't move to France until 1770.

Marie's attitude towards the poor

Her attitude towards the poor does not seem to correspond with the "let them eat cake" attitude, as demonstrated in a letter written by Marie Antoinette. She states:

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. The King seems to understand this truth.

from Lettres De Marie-Antoinette. Also, see Marie Antoinette: The Journey.

Explanation of the phrase

The phrase in French is:

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche

Which translates to

Let them eat brioche

For familiarity sake, brioche is often translated into English as cake.

  • 20
    tl;dr- The cake is a lie. – Nat Apr 28 '17 at 18:47
5

This page says no: Les mensonges de l'Histoire: S'ils n'ont pas de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche !

It mentions three sources as follows:

  1. The first is The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which includes,

    Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit : Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. J’achetai de la brioche. etc.

    At last I remembered the last resort of a great princess to whom one used to say that the peasants had no bread, and who replied, that they could eat brioche. I bought brioches. (followed by a description of buying brioche)

    So (this article continues) Marie Antoinette was quickly associated with this "great princess", after the book was published in 1789. However the book was published posthumously but written in 1765 .. 1770, when Marie Antoinette was only 10 years old and not yet married.

    There's no other document of that era which shows that Marie Antoinette held such a tenet.

  2. The first text which tied Marie Antoinette to the famous quote was the work of the journalist Alphonse Karr in 1853, who published an article in a satirical review titled The Wasps.

  3. The story was subsequently rare, until it was popularized in 1931 in a work for children by Erich Kästner, which was translated into 25 languages and is still published to this day.

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