Did Marie Antoinette really say “let them eat cake”?

The Queen of France, infamous for her lavish and luxurious lifestyle, had such little regard for the peasants of her country that when she learned that they had no bread to eat, she merely declared they should eat cake instead – or did she?

A portrait of Marie Antoinette

If she did utter the words, “let them eat cake” – now so irrevocably linked to Marie Antoinette – she was being terribly unoriginal.

Advertisement

Although its true provenance is uncertain, this attack on privilege existed long before the French Revolution, and was only attached to the queen 50 years after she lost her head.

According to historian Nancy Barker, it was “an old chestnut” used to criticise Bourbon ladies, including Louis XV’s daughters. Philosopher Rousseau wrote a very similar anecdote about a “great princess” – five years before Marie Antoinette even arrived in France.

While it was reported that a cruel politician snarled “let them eat hay”, there is no contemporary evidence that revolutionaries levelled this familiar accusation against Marie Antoinette – the earliest known source for this enduring myth is a French journal of 1843.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, historian and author Emily Brand

Advertisement

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine