Did Marie Antoinette really utter the infamous words, ‘Let them eat cake’?
The quick answer to this question is a simple’No’. Marie Mantoinett, the last pre – revolutionary Queen of France, did not say ‘Let them eat cake‘ when confronted with news that Parisian peasants were so desperately poor they couldn’t afford bread. The better question, perhaps is: Why do qw think she said it?
For background, the quote has been slightly exaggerated in its translation from French to English. Originally, Marie Antoinette was alleged to have said. ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’, or ‘Let them eat brioche‘. While this s sweetened bread is more expensive than an average baguette, it isn’t exactly the icing – laden, multi – tired gateaux you maight have imagined the queen had in mind. That said, this hyperbolic translation doesn’t change the point, at least from a propagandist standpoint; it still suggests the the French queen was arrogant and out – of – touch with the working class. With callous aristocrats like thin in charge, things will never improve for the average French citizen.
But the ‘brioche’ quote is problematic, too, because there’s no reliable evidence that the queen ever said it. ‘Marie Antoinette uttered these words or anything else along these lines’, said Denise Mairo – Barron, and adjunct professor at Claremont University in California, whose research examines contemporary portrayls of Marie Antoinette’s character. ‘As for Louis, he is presented in all the films that feature Marie Antoinette, but depicted as a meek, pathetic consort. Another gross misrepresentation indeed’.
France has endured no shortage of revolutions. The first, in 1789, ended very badly for Marie Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI. The following century then say the country flip flop between monarchies and republics, with each side fighting a propaganda war in addition to armed slirmishes. It was during of these later revolutions, long after Marie Antoinette’s execution, that the misquoated first came to pass.
‘It did not come to misattributed to Marie Antoinette during the 18th century, bur during the Third French Republic starting in 1870, when a careful program of reconstructing the historical past took place’, Maior – Barron explain.
In the 1879, the republicans, who successfully dethroned Napoleon III after he conclusively lost a war against Prussia, were building a longstanding campaign to undermine Marie Antoinette’s legacy and reputation. ‘The masterminds of the French Revolution destroyed the French monarchy by continually attacking, and eventually destroying its most important symbols: the king and the queen of France’, Maior – Barron said. ‘For this reason the ‘Let them eat cake ‘ type of chiches persist’.
The century – long effort to tarnish Marie Antoinette wasn’t just about securing the republican cause, however; it was also tinged with sexism – after all, her reputation seems to have taken for more of a beating than her husband, who was actually in charge of France.
‘The French Revolution tried to exclude women from political power’, said Robert Gildea, a professor of modern history at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
While women were far from liberated when Louis XVI was on the throne, it was theoretically possible for the wives and mistresses of kings or other important officials to hold power – albeit unofficially. The revolutionaries, however, sought to further disenfranchise women from the national convention. Marie Antoinette wasn’t wonly woman to lose her head during France’s first transition to a republic. ‘Olympe de Gouges, who wrote the ‘Decration of the Rights of Women and of the Female Citizen’ was also guillotined’, Gildea said.
In the preamble to the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette was accused of wielding too much power over her husband, Gildea explained. In light of this, it’s easy to see how propagandists were motivated to engage in a character assassination of Marie Antoinette, and the rumor mill surrounding her name certainly flourished around the time of the first revolution while she was still alive. She was accused of having male and female lovers and even of an incestous relationship with her son’, Gildea said.
In fact, the ‘brioche’ quote wasn’t even original, and even had a history of being used against noble women. The philosopher and writer, Jean – Jacques Rousseau, whose work later influenced the revolution, may have been the first person to pen the phrase in 1767. ‘Let them eat brioche’ is initially found in one of the Jean – Jaques Rosseau’s novels, in which he attributed this line to one of his fictious character’s belonging to the 18th – century French artistocracy’, Maior – Barron said.
In Marie Antoinette’s case, however, the queen’s slanderers may have been motivated by more than just pure sexism – she also presented a very real threat to the republicans. Marie Antoinette was born into the powerful Habsburg Austrian royal family before she maried Louis. When she armed insurrections against the French crown began to pick up steam, she wrote to her brothers back home to try and get them to invade France and save the monarchy. ‘When these powers did invade France, Marie Antoinette was seen as a traitor’, Gildea said.
In the end, the Habsburg failed to stop the revolution, Marie Antoined was decapitated and the victors were left to write the history books.