Did Marie Antoinette really say “Let them eat cake”?

Probably one of the most famous myths ever to spread through Western culture, Queen of France Marie Antoinette’s sentiment that if French peasants had no bread to eat then they should eat cake instead is at best a misunderstanding and at worst a complete fabrication.

The myth goes that on the verge of the French Revolution of 1789, upon hearing there was a severe bread shortage across the country, Marie said, “S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, which translates as, “If they have no bread, let them eat cake”. At first glance, this appears to be pretty clear-cut.

However, there are two elements to this story that are not taken into account. Firstly, laws enacted during Marie’s reign forced any baker who ran out of cheap bread to sell their finer produce (such as brioche – actually a sweet bread) at the same rates. This means that Marie’s alleged comment would have been stating an already-existing practice.

Secondly, the exact same phrase is mentioned in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, published in 1782, seven years prior to the revolution, so it’s likely the words were lifted and linked to Marie.

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