XII: Mythbust Monday — Let Them Eat Fake

Let them eat cake!

So go the infamously damning words of France’s rather naive Queen Marie Antoinette and, later, a rather flamboyantly dressed Kirsten Dunst…or do they?

Sadly, no. Sorry.

First of all, the first record of the phrase Qu’ils mangent de la brioche appears in the autobiography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1765, when Maria Antonia Josefina Joanna Hapsburg was only a nine-year-old Austrian Archduchess. And nine-year-olds just don’t go around saying things like that. Rousseau claims the words were spoken by “a great princess” when she learned that her people had no bread. Rousseau never mentions the identity of the “great princess,” and it should be noted that his autobiography is well-known is the least reliable autobiography ever.

This phrase was first attributed to Marie Antoinette by Alphonse Karr in 1843, about 60 years after the queen supposedly said it. This was probably based on rumors spread by Marie Anoinette’s aunts-in-law, Sophie and Victoire, who were familiar with Rousseau and did not like their nephew’s wife at all.

Lady Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette’s best 20th century biographer, attributes the quote to Marie-Therese, who was Marie Antoinette’s husband’s great grandmother and lived about 100 years before Marie Antoinette. Lady Fraser points out that in addition to the fact that there were no famines during Marie Antoinette’s reign (only before her reign), the queen was neither callous nor ignorant and was actually really aware of and sympathetic to the suffering of her people. Except nobody cared because Marie Antoinette was foreign and that automatically made her a raging jerkaholic in the eyes of the French.

So basically, Marie Antoinette couldn’t have said “Let them eat cake” because she was a little kid and not even in France or a princess when the saying arose.

Not to mention she was just a spoiled teenager who had never been taught how to be a queen.

The closest she ever did come to anything like “Let them eat cake” was when, while talking about helping the less fortunate citizens of her country, she said something along the lines of, “And if they have no bread, we will give them our best cakes,” which is kinda the opposite.

But, in an enthusiastic display of the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished,” the French people charged her with a bunch of crimes she didn’t commit and cut her head off anyway.

And nobody got any cake at all.

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