If French queen Marie Antoinette did utter the words “let them eat cake”, she was being terribly unoriginal.
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