Did Marie Antoinette Really Say "Let Them Eat Cake"?
No, but the story is not far from fact: Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) was queen of France during the French Revolution (1789–99), a bloody rebellion against the monarchy. She became infamous for her insensitivity to poor people, who were suffering in great numbers. According to the tale, she asked an official why Parisians were rebelling. When he explained that people were angry because they had no bread and were starving, she is said to have replied, "Let them eat cake." Historians, however, have found no evidence that Marie Antoinette spoke these words. Instead, the statement has been traced to Swiss-French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), who wrote in his Confessions that an unnamed "young princess" said "Let them eat cake." The princess could not have been Marie Antoinette because Rousseau completed Confessions in 1770, nearly twenty years before the French Revolution.
The story was accepted as true, however, because it seemed like a typical remark for the French queen. A native of Austria and the daughter of Holy Roman emperor Francis I, Marie Antoinette was accustomed to a life of luxury, so she pursued her own interests when she became unhappy in her marriage to King Louis XVI (1754–1793). Despite the economic problems that plagued France, she lived an extravagant lifestyle, which included grand balls, a "small" palace at Versailles (the royal residence), theater, gambling, and other frivolities. She was completely disinterested in the affairs of the nation, and many French people blamed her for corruption in the court. Marie Antoinette was also hated because she was from Austria, which was a traditional enemy of France. The revolution soon put an end to Marie Antoinette's excesses. Along with her husband, she was executed by guillotine (a device used for beheading) in 1793.
Further Information: Kielly, Bernadine. Marie Antoinette. New York: Random House, 1955; Marie Antoinette. [Online] Available http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/7545/MarieAntoinette.html, October 26, 2000; "Marie Antoinette." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/08065.html, October 26, 2000; Shenkman, Richard. Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994, p. 147.