Misquoted: “Let Them Eat Cake”


Let them eat cake” is common translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, and commonly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette upon learning that the peasants had no bread to eat. “Since brioche was enriched, the quote supposedly would reflect the queen’s ignorance of the condition of the people.”

There is however, no record of these words ever having been spoken by her. They do appear in Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s 1782 autobiography entitled Confessions whose first six books were written in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was only nine years of age. Rousseau used the phrase when he wanted some bread to accompany some wine he had stolen. “Feeling he was too elegantly dressed to go into an ordinary bakery, he recollected the words of a “great princess”:  “Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit : Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.  Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: “Let them eat brioche.”

The phrase was first attributed to Marie Antoinette by the French writer Alphonse Karr in “Les Guepes” of March, 1843. The Queen’s increasing unpopularity in the final years before the French Revolution; her perceived frivolousness, her Austrian birth, and femininity were all factors leading to the phrase being attributed to her and in some cases, she was blamed entirely for France’s financial woes. It was common for “anti-royalist libellists to print stories and articles that attacked the royal family and their courtiers with exaggerations, fictitious events and outright lies” (Wikipedia)