LET THEM EAT CAKE! These four little words will be forever be associated with the flippant remark by Marie-Antoinette. Even the famous, “Killer Queen” song perpetuates this myth.
In reality though, she never likely ever even uttered these words. They originally appeared in a story by Jean-Jacques Rousseau where a princess that was so disconnected with the commoners’ reality that she suggested they should eat cake if they didn’t have bread.
The words have been attributed to the French Queen because she and King Louis XVI were perceived—and rightly so—as being disconnected from the people of France. The court of Versailles was the source of endless gossips for the common people who never saw their King and Queen, but only heard rumours of the decadent lifestyle of the nobility.
Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of the Queen in her “Marie-Antoinette” movie shows the human side of a 16-year-old Austrian princess thrown into the French court ruled by extravagant etiquette: nobles lining up in the morning to attend the waking up of the Queen, dressing her up, and so on... In addition, “the Austrian” as the French nobility nicknamed her, could feel she was not welcome and would always be seen as a foreigner.
As I explain as part of my French Revolution tour, Louis XVI did not “honour” the Queen’s charms for the first seven years of their marriage. With the lack of respect all around then one might understand better why the young Marie-Antoinette sought refuge in love affairs and spent lavishly on clothes, jewels, and castles, as well as her friends ... But by doing so, the common people considered her as “Madame Deficit” when hearing about her exorbitant spending habits ...
There is however one thing we may owe to Queen Marie-Antoinette: the delicious croissant! Sources vary on the introduction of the croissant in France, its context and its date of arrival but considering the pastry family of croissants is called “Viennoiserie” (from Vienna) adds to the credibility of Marie-Antoinette introducing it to the court of Versailles.
If only she had distributed some of them to the French mobs, there may not have been a revolution... So let them eat croissants!