Marie Antoinette and The “Let them eat cake” myth

(public domain)

Marie Antoinette has gone down in history as one of the most despised Queens, not in the least because of her perceived indifference to the plight of the poor and for saying something she never did… “Let them eat cake.”

Born an Austrian Archduchess on 2 November 1755 as the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis of Lorraine, Holy Roman Emperor, Marie Antoinette married the Dauphin of France, later King Louis XVI, in 1770. He became King just four years later with Marie Antoinette as his Queen.

The Let them eat cake incident was first told about Maria Theresa of Spain, the Queen of Louis XIV of France, a century before Marie Antoinette even arrived in France in the form of Let them eat crust (croute) of the pate. It continued to be repeated about a series of Princesses, like Madame Sophie and Madame Victoire, throughout the 18th century before being wrongly ascribed to Marie Antoinette. If anything, Marie Antoinette would have been the one to give her own cake to the starving people.1 In the memoirs of the Count of Provence, published in 1823, he commented that eating pate en croute always reminded him of a saying of his ancestress, Maria Theresa of Spain.2

Marie Antoinette was known for her charity, even though her good works were later buried under accusations of indulgence. When breaking the news of her first pregnancy to the people of France, Marie Antoinette asked her husband for 12,000 francs to send to the relief of those in the debtors’ jail in Paris – particularly for those in jail for failing to pay their children’s wet-nurses and the poor of Versailles. She wrote, “Thus I gave to charity and at the same time notified the people of my condition.”3 As a young Queen, Marie Antoinette cared for a peasant injured in the royal stag-hunt, and it was for acts like these that she wanted to be remembered – she wanted the love of the people and was easily touched by the less fortunate. She had compassion and even instructed her young son on the need to care for unfortunate children.4

During the time of the Flour War in 1775, Marie Antoinette’s reputation was damaged due to a series of riots with many blaming her for the economic situation and the high prices of flour and bread. The Let them eat cake rumours attributed to Marie Antoinette came from around this time. Instead of uttering the ignorant words, Marie Antoinette was writing to her mother on the duties of royalty. “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; as for myself, I know that in my whole life (even if I live for a hundred years) I shall never forget the day of the coronation.”5

As her unpopularity deepened, Marie Antoinette took desperate measures to win back the love of the people. She mingled with the crowds and opened up the Trianon for the public on Sundays. People were disappointed not to see rooms paved with diamonds and believed them to be off-limits rather than non-existent. Her extravagance is not in doubt, nor is the rest of the French Royal Family’s. They lived in a world of unimaginable luxury, and the extravagance only fueled the fire of the revolution. Marie Antoinette’s sister Maria Caroline wrote, “My poor sister. Her only fault was that she loved entertainments and parties, and this led to her misery.”6 There was more to it than that, of course, especially if you factor in the utter humiliation she lived for the first eight years of her marriage. But to accuse Marie Antoinette of ignorance of the situation in France, it simply doesn’t add up.

  1. Marie Antoinette: the journey by Antonia Fraser p. XIX-XX
  2. Marie Antoinette: the journey by Antonia Fraser p.135
  3. Marie Antoinette: the journey by Antonia Fraser p.161
  4. Marie Antoinette: the journey by Antonia Fraser p.454
  5. Marie Antoinette: the journey by Antonia Fraser p.135
  6. Marie Antoinette: the journey by Antonia Fraser p.455

About Moniek Bloks 2666 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

1 Comment

  1. I am always glad to see the false image of Marie Antoinette cleared for those who were not aware of her true actions!The made up story about the diamond necklace she did not own and the false story about her relationship with her young son that was beyond absurdity!

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