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The Real Story Behind Let Them Eat Cake!

“Let them eat cake” is a phrase famously attributed to Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France during the French Revolution. At some point in 1789, after being told that the French population was facing a bread shortage, because of the poor crop harvest and the rodents, and as a result, was starving, Marie Antoinette replied with “let them eat cake!” Cake, obviously being a more expensive item than bread just went on to show how out of touch she was with her subjects. With this callous remark, the Queen became a hated symbol of the monarchy which fueled the French revolution and ultimately led to her (literally) losing her head a few years later.

However, the question still remains: did the much-beloved French monarch actually occur those words? For starters the literal translation of the phrase from French to English is inaccurate. Marie Antoinette is said to have said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” which literally translates to let them eat Brioche. While Brioche is a buttery, sweet french breakfast bread much more expensive than a basic Baguette, it is no multi icing layered gateaux one imagines.  However, this still doesn’t change the fact that it showed how arrogant and out-of-touch the French Queen was from her subjects. Now the matter of whether Marie Antoinette actually occurred those words come to question. Well according to historians she did not! Lady Antonia Fraser, the author of a biography of the French queen, believes the quote would have been highly uncharacteristic of Marie-Antoinette. She states Marie Antoinette was a sensible woman who despite her lavish lifestyle showed sensitivity to her subjects. But keeping that aside, this quote has been circulating since before 1789 and was told in a slightly different form about Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660. She allegedly said that the French people eat la croûte de pâté” (or the crust of the pâté). This story first appeared in philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau “Confessions” in 1766, when Marie Antoinette was just 10 years old! Thus, whoever occurred those words was definitely not Marie Antoinette.

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