When she was informed that her people were starving from lack of bread, the 18th-century French queen Marie-Antoinette is said to have quipped, “Then let them eat cake.” This famous line has traditionally served to underscore the monarch’s ignorance of her subjects’ plight, yet there is almost no evidence that Marie-Antoinette ever uttered those words. The phrase first appeared in reference to a “great princess” in the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book “Confessions,” which was written in early 1766. If Rousseau were indeed referring to Marie-Antoinette, it would mean she was only 10 years old and not yet a queen when she said it. Scholars think Rousseau either coined the phrase or that it was a common insult used to criticize various aristocratic figures in the 18th century. So if “let them eat cake” was ever directly attributed to Marie-Antoinette in her lifetime, it was most likely part of a deliberate attempt by her political opponents to discredit her.


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