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Let Them Eat Cake

RWC tutor Paula Rawlings provides background on the phrase "Let them eat cake."

National Cake Day is observed every year on the 26th of November in the United States. Where and when it originated is unknown, but it serves as a fun way to celebrate the dessert of many celebrations and festivities. People commemorate the holiday either by baking or indulging in cakes. In life of this festivity, what better way to celebrate than by exploring one of the most renowned quotes attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!”

At some point, whether in a history class or through media exposure, most of us have likely heard of the famous phrase, “Let them eat cake.” If you have not, the story behind this phrase goes like this: when Marie Antionette, the Queen of France prior to the French Revolution, was informed that peasants were going hungry because they could not afford to buy bread, she supposedly responded with, “Let them eat cake.” This of course is an absurd response considering that cake was more expensive and luxurious than bread. However, there is no concrete evidence that Marie Antionette actually made this statement. Furthermore, the original phrase was not even about cake. The French phrase is "Qu’ils mangent de la brioche," which translates to "Let them eat brioche." Brioche is a type of soft bread that was considered a luxury food, but not as extreme as a cake with its frosting decorations. Essentially, it was very different from cake. The phrase also existed before Marie Antionette’s reign as Queen of France and even her birth. Before her time, a variation of the phrase was associated with Marie-Thérèse, a Spanish princess who married French King Louis XIV. It was said that she told French peasants to eat “la croute de pâté,” which refers to the crust of the pâté, akin to pie crust. In Germany, during the 16th century the phrase was supposedly uttered by a noblewoman that suggested that the poor should eat krosem, a type of bread, to alleviate their hunger.

Most notably the phrase appeared in the book Confessions (1766) by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In his book, he attributed the phrase "Qu’ils mangent de la brioche" to a princess but did not specify who. Marie Antionette was alive and held the title of a princess when Rousseau wrote this, but it is highly unlikely that the remark was about her. To begin with, Marie Antionette was around 10 years old when Rousseau spoke about a princess and this phrase, and she had never been to France. It is believed that Rousseau was actually referring to Marie-Thérèse. However, the misconception that Marie Antoinette said this quote and was obsessed with cake is still present today. This portrayal painted her as an out of touch Queen that was oblivious to the hard conditions faced by peasants, and it implied a simplistic notion that they could indulge in cake if they could not eat bread. There is a belief that this negative image of her was purposefully fabricated during the French Revolution by the revolutionaries in an attempt to undermine the French monarchy and its high figures. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that Marie Antionette actually said, “Let them eat cake,” despite its prevalence to be associated with her.

Works Cited

“Did Marie-Antoinette Really Say ‘Let Them Eat Cake’?” History, 24 Oct. 2012,

Plackett, Benjamin. “Did Marie Antoinette Really Say ‘Let Them Eat Cake’?” Live Science, 11 Apr. 2021,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Marie-Antoinette.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 July 1998,

“Uncover The Reality Behind Marie-Antoinette’s Famous Phrase, ‘Let Them Eat Cake.’” Encyclopedia Britannica, 14 Dec. 2020,

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