July 14, 2017
It is widely believed that Marie-Antoinette once said, “Let them eat cake,” when told how many people in France had nothing to eat.
July 14 is Bastille Day in France. It marks the anniversary of when the Bastille, a fortress, armory, and political prison, was stormed by revolutionaries on July 14, 1789 (“Storming”). That action was a flashpoint of the French Revolution.
Every year, the national holiday is marked by military parades, feasts, and fireworks. This year, U.S. President Donald Trump joined new French President Emmanuel Macron in order to mark the 100-year anniversary of the United States’ entrance into World War I.
Since it is Bastille Day I thought I’d look at a phrase with a historical connection.
Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793), the wife of King Louis XVI, is often cited as the source of the phrase, “Let them eat cake.” And there were a few myths to explain this attribution.
One version myth had her saying that to a mob of French peasants on her way to the guillotine. Another version has her saying the phrase when told that much of the French populace was starving (and lacked bread). Yet another version of the myth has an Englishmen overhearing Antoinette saying, “Le theme est quete” (The theme is quest), which is gibberish (Hiskey).
As many of us know, Marie-Antoinette was Queen when the French Revolution of 1787-1799 broke out. Since a driving force of the revolution was the animus toward the French aristocracy, Antoinette quickly emerged as symbol of decadence. Thus this quote was attributed to her, among other things.
From my findings, Marie-Antoinette may have been grossly mischaracterized. The above myths are just that and there is evidence Marie-Antoinette was not the source of this quote, nor was she the type of person to utter it. Yet given the competing forces of her day, there was reason for slander.
If Marie Antoinette was being slandered who would stand to benefit?