France | Life + Culture

Marie Antoinette + Let Them Eat Cake

A fairy tale life that soon turned into one of the biggest tragedies, Marie Antoinette the Queen of France has fascinated not just the French but people all across the globe. As a hedonistic and luxury-loving queen who had superficial and shopaholic tendencies, Marie Antoinette played an essential role in her own demise.

But despite her tone-deaf habits, privileged nature, and no importance on the political map of France, Marie Antoinette continues to be the beloved princess and a global idol in modern times.

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marie antoinette let them eat cake illustration
Illustration commissioned from Linden Eller.

Let Them Eat Cake

Probably the most iconic quote attributed to Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution is “Let them eat cake”.

During the time prior to the revolution, the people of France were suffering from poor harvests, rodent infestations, and bread shortages. Hearing this, the Queen was said to have replied “Let them eat cake”. As a cake is more expensive than bread, the quote is meant to show the oblivious nature of the Queen of France to daily life and the disintegrating conditions of the French people.

But, Did Marie Antoinette really say ‘Let Them Eat Cake’?

The short answer is no, Marie Antoinette did not say these words. The original words that Marie Antoinette was alleged to have said were “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. And while brioche is more expensive than a baguette due to the generous amounts of butter and eggs, it is not a cake with icing and layers that one imagines. 

french brioche

There is no reliable historical evidence that suggests that the Queen had ever said these words. The stories of callous aristocrats unaware of their privileges and oblivious to the problems around them have been circulating long before Marie Antoinette came into the picture.

The first mention of these words was found in Rousseau’s writings, the French philosopher who attributes the quote to “a great princess”. And although Marie Antoinette was a princess when he wrote the words, it was highly unlikely it was her as she was merely 10 years old.

Jean Jacques Rousseau’s writings were supposed to have inspired the revolutionaries at the time, and it is possible that the quote was taken and falsely attributed to the Queen and spread as part of propaganda against the monarchy. The earliest known source that connects the Queen to the quote was surprisingly published in 1843, 50 years after the French Revolution when a French writer reported he found the quote in a book from the 1760s. 

marie antoinette lookalike

Who was Marie Antoinette?

Born in 1755 in Vienna, Marie Antoinette became the Quen of France at the age of 14 when she married Louis XVI at the Palace of Versailles. As a teen queen, Marie Antoinette tried adjusting to life in Paris with a husband who was interested in neither her nor the throne. 

With boredom setting in, Marie Antoinette started indulging in the pleasures of the court and the royal life through extravagant soirees, masked balls, Opera nights, and gambling. Her luxurious tastes in decor, fashion, and food took a huge toll on the Royal Treasury. She found her escape from court life in the Petit Trianon, a gift from Louis and started spending most of her time in the small castle.

Petit Trianon
Petit Trianon

Thanks to her frivolous spending on diamonds and couture, her mounting gambling debts, and the increasing amount of time holed up in the Petit Trianon she was often the target of unwelcome gossip. She was soon known as Madame Deficit for her carelessness and her greed.

Constantly surrounded by wealth at the Versailles court, Marie Antoinette was oblivious to the way the general public lived in Paris and France. She did not know about the problems of the peasants or the rising taxes, nor was she aware of the rising dislike for her outside the courts.

Petit Trianon

Marie Antoinette was soon blamed for the rising gloom and adversities of France and was caught up in a defamation scheme where the revolutionaries printed anti-queen pamphlets showing graphic illustrations. Marie Antoinette’s debauchery was believed to be France’s ruin. This reflected poorly on Louis XVI, who already had a bad image with the masses.

She became the most hated woman in France and was soon confined to the Tuileries Palace. The return of the King and the Queen to the Palace furthered the revolutionaries, and for the next two years, they became the sole object of the nation’s fury.

The Conciergerie in Paris
The Conciergerie

When Louis XVI tried to plot a counter-revolution after Marie Antoinette’s insistence, he was tried for treason and sentenced to the guillotine in January 1793. A couple of months later, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned in the Conciergerie and later brought to trial in front of the masses and the prosecutors, who accused her of crimes like adultery, corruption, sexual deviance, and even incest. She was publicly beheaded at the Place de la Revolution and was deemed the symbol of the Revolution.

Marie Antoinette’s Paris + Beyond

Marie Antoinette is often imagined as a Queen strolling the lush gardens of Versailles or lounging in one of the overly decorated rooms of the palace. Still, she also had a life in Paris. The couple had their residence at the royal palace in the Tuileries Garden, and due to her extravagant tastes and indulgences, Marie Antoinette left a trail across Paris in search of fêtes, fashion, and desserts.

Palace of Versailles

Known as the center of design and the cultural heartbeat of Europe, the Palace of Versailles signified opulence and grandiose through its Baroque architecture, gilded rooms, frescoed vaulted ceilings, endless hallways lined with mirrors, and the extensive use of the trompe l’oeil art technique.

Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles

Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI lived in the Palace from 1770 to 1789. The Queen’s Apartments consisted of a variety of rooms, including the bedroom, the Royal Table Antechamber used for dining, and the Guard’s room. The Queen met with her friends and visitors here, and also gave birth in these rooms. 

Marie Antoinette lived in the French neoclassical era which borrowed its style from Greek and Egyptian motifs with an added French flair. The Queen was not fond of the gaudy Louis XIV-styled interiors and ordered quite a few redecorations in the Nobles’ Room and the Gilded Room. She added the pastel color palette paired with gilded trimmings, with plenty of floral motifs and mirrors.

Petit Trianon (at Palace of Versailles)

The Petit Trianon is a small castle that was originally built by Louis XV in 1758 as a gift to his mistress, Madame du Barry. After he died in 1774, Louis XVI inherited the castle and gifted it to Marie Antoinette who immediately redesigned the external areas and gardens, and kept adding new things daily. It contains her distinct floral decor in pastel blues, greens, and lilacs. 

Temple of love at the Petit Trianon garden
Temple of love at the Petit Trianon garden

The Petit Trianon was her escape from the glitz and glamor of court life at Versailles. Although she wasn’t much of a help in political matters, she was a gifted musician and often accompanied Antonio Salieri, an Austrian composer when he visited her court. The Petit Trianon was totally and completely the Queen’s crash pad, and Louis XVI only ever entered with permission and invitation.

Hameau de la Reine (at Palace of Versailles)

Marie Antoinette’s redecoration of the Petit Trianon was done in two phases. The first one saw the blossoming of an English garden, and the second one included the creation of a whole model village in rural architectural style around an artificial lake. 

Hameau de la Reine at Palace of Versailles
Hameau de la Reine at Palace of Versailles

Known as the Queen’s Hamlet, the village was a pastoral fantasy with quaint cottages, wisteria vines, windmills, and stone bridges. Although the cottages had rustic exteriors, the interiors were strategically decorated with the signature Marie Antoinette style where the Queen could host parties and soirees. The hamlet was a place for idyllic strolls and small gatherings, and contrary to the popular belief, the Queen did not play at being farmers.

The village also had working dairies, barns, and fisherman’s cottages. Most of the buildings did not survive the French Revolution and the weather, but Napoleon did order full renovations of the hamlet. In doing so, he got rid of some of the most worn-down structures which included the barn and the working dairy.

Chateau de Fontainebleau 

The Chateau de Fontainebleau is the greatest accumulation of French architecture and decor in its original state, thanks to its 800 years of royal patronage. Although not as grand as Versailles, Fontainebleau had its own unique charm, and the Queen adored her trips here. 

Chateau de Fontainebleau
Chateau de Fontainebleau

Her private bedroom, the Turkish Boudoir, was built in 1777 and had an Oriental influence on the decor. It was here that the Queen entertained her inner circle of friends, away from the court life amidst scented incense. It was recently restored and can be visited only through private guided tours.

The second room where Marie Antoinette left her mark was the Silver Boudoir. With a more classic design than the Turkish Boudoir, this private space saw heavy use of inlaid mother-of-pearl.

The Conciergerie

The Conciergerie is a former courthouse and prison in the middle of Paris. Its architecture includes the medieval remnants of the first royal palace of the city, Palais de la Cité.

Marie Antoinette was separated from her daughter and her sister-in-law and was brought to the Conciergerie prison on the night of August 2, 1793. In her cell, she was completely isolated from the other detainees and was constantly guarded by two gendarmes. She even tried to escape the prison with the help of the Chevalier de Rougeville but was interrupted at the last moment by one of the gendarmes.

Inside the Conciergerie
Inside the Conciergerie

In October, the ex-Queen was brought in front of the public prosecutor and the citizens of Paris. Within 20 hours of uninterrupted debates and trials, Marie Antoinette was sentenced to death and was executed later that day on the Place de la Révolution (now Concorde).

Once the Conciergerie underwent restoration, Marie Antoinette’s cell was transformed into an oratory in her memory.

Place de la Concorde

The largest square in Paris, located between the Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde was the home to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Among the notable executions were the ones of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre.

Fontaine de la Concorde
Fontaine de la Concorde

The square was known as Place Louis XV, and an equestrian statue of Louis XV was installed. During the revolution, it became known as Place de la Revolution, and the statue of Louis XV was torn down by the revolutionaries. Today, an Egyptian obelisk stands on the tower, along with two fountains on either side.

Tuileries Garden

The Jardin des Tuileries was an important part of the French Revolution. While the kings and the queens lived mostly in Versailles, the royalty also had a residence in Paris in the Tuileries Palace (which was destroyed after the fall of the monarchy). During the revolution, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI took refuge in the Tuileries Palace when they were forcefully brought to Paris from their Palace in Versailles.

Jardin des tuileries Paris France

Once they moved into the Tuileries Palace, Louis XVI did his best to improve his image amongst the citizens, while Marie Antoinette struggles to hide her opposition to the events happening around her. The couple even tried to escape the Palace and head to the borders to garner help from the foreign armies. They were caught in Varennes and were led back to the Palace, which would then become a prison for the King, the Queen, and their children.

Green chairs in the Jardin des tuileries Paris France

The Palace was later stormed by angry mobs in 1792. The monarchs had luckily fled the Palace before the attack and sought refuge in the Salle du Manège with the Assembly. Since the Palace was not built with military strategies in mind, it was difficult to fight back. As a result, the Palace was ransacked, and the monarchs were transferred to the tower of the Temple.

Stohrer Patisserie

One of the oldest pastry shops in Paris, Stohrer Patisserie was also Marie Antoinette’s favorite patisserie that provided her with fresh brioche-like pastry, a reminder of her Austrian days. 

Stohrer Patisserie in Paris
Stohrer Patisserie in Paris

Nicolas Stohrer was a pastry chef brought to the French court by Louis XV’s wife, Marie Leszczynska when she arrived from Poland in 1725. In 1730, he opened his pastry shop in the 2nd Arr on Rue Montorgueil, where it stands strong even today.

Address: 51 Rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arrondissement.

If you have ever visited Stohrer you will know it’s a beautiful shop (take a look at the floor and the ceiling!). I love this print from Bohemian Bright Shop which perfectly captures the store!

Marie Antoinette Tea from Nina

Marie Antoinette loved to indulge in decor, fashion, and food, therefore her beverages were nothing less than exquisite. Nina’s Paris was a distillery created in 1672 that specialized in distilling natural essential oils. They were well known for creating decadent fragrances and soon started supplying to the court in Versailles. The Queen was particularly fond of their lavender and rose fragrances. 

Nina’s Paris Marie Antoinette Tea

The connection between Versailles and Nina’s Paris stands strong even today with their Versailles range and the luxurious Thé de Marie Antoinette. The Marie Antoinette tea is a delicate blend of rose petals and fresh apples from the King’s Kitchen Gardens (Le Potager du Roi Versailles). Nina’s Paris is the exclusive partner of the Versailles Gardens created by Louis XIV.

Address: 29 Rue Danielle Casanova in the 1st arrondissement.

You can also buy Nina’s Marie-Antoinette tea in its original pink tin on Amazon! And if you really want to splurge, get the special edition Ladurée Paris Marie-Antoinette tea!

Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette from Debauve & Gallais

Debauve & Gallais were the first chocolatiers in history to create crunchy chocolate coins for Marie Antoinette. Known as pistoles, they were founded by the Queen herself. The idea originated when she complained about the taste of her bitter medicines and thought of consuming them with the hot chocolate that she was accustomed to drinking every morning in Vienna.

As hot chocolate and medicines were not a good combination, it was decided to create bite-sized crunchy chocolate in a coin shape.

In the beginning, they were made of cane sugar, cocoa, and medicine, but soon enough the Queen started demanding different tastes. Keeping in mind the Queen’s wishes and the doctor’s prescriptions, Debauve began concocting pleasant flavors, from orange blossom and almond milk to coffee and vanilla.

Post Revolution, Debauve opened a store in the 7th Arr and advertised the health benefits of cocoa and the simple pleasure of eating chocolate. The Pistoles of Marie Antoinette are available in the store even today.

Address: 30 Rue des Saints-Pères in the 7th arrondissement.

You can also buy the Queen Antoinette sampler with pistoles online in the US!

Black Jade Perfume

The ultimate fragrance of the queen of France, the Black Jade Perfume was a scent created by Lubin from the original formula of the last fragrance that Marie Antoinette ever wore.

Pierre-François Lubin, an apprentice to the perfumer of the queen, Jean-Louis Fargeon, continued the work of his mentor after the French Revolution, and soon became a perfumer to Empress Josephine and the court. He was also the first French perfumer to export outside France into the United States.

The perfume house was bought by Gilles Thevenin in the 19th century, who stumbled upon the original formula for 1780s perfume, the Bouquet de la Reine (the Queen’s Bouquet). This was the formula for the same perfume that Marie Antoinette wore around her neck, and the last vial was entrusted to the Queen’s lady in waiting, the Duchess de Tourzel, on the eve of her departure to the Conciergerie. The Duchess survived the Revolution and spoke of the black jade bottle as a talisman that kept her safe. It is also believed that the perfume was one of the only things the Queen was allowed to keep with her during her imprisonment and beheading.

The perfume is made with the aromas of rose, jasmine, and bergamot. Today, the perfume has spicy, floral, and oriental notes, and can be bought even today from the Lubin stores.

The Best Cakes in Paris

And now for you! If this article on pastries and cakes has you yearning for a slice while you are in Paris then I am here to help! Paris is a city of pastries and desserts, and it would be a crime to not indulge your sweet tooth. Around every street corner, is a bakery or a store housing tempting treats and experimental desserts.

Beautiful cake

Here is a list of places to find the best cakes in Paris.

Love and Cakes Paris 

Located at the foot of Montmartre, Love and Cakes Paris creates some of the cutest cakes! Homemade in the Paris workshop, they offer a variety of shapes and sizes, from number-shaped cakes and cupcakes to wedding and party cakes. The store delivers throughout mainland France and is available for B2B events.

Address: 16, Rue Ferdinand Flocon in the 18th arrondissement.

Clove Bakery

An American bakery in Paris, Clove Bakery is tucked into a quaint space in the 2nd Arr. With a team of Americans working hard to bring you treats from the other side of the Atlantic, they specialize in a variety of cakes and other classic treats such as cookies, cupcakes, and pies. Clove Bakery proudly offers American comfort food to both ex-pats and locals.

Address: 71, Rue Greneta in the 2nd arrondissement.

Berko

Berko Original is a bespoke cake shop offering a wide variety of delicious cupcakes, cheesecakes, and individual slices. With endless gourmet flavors, the store is a hit when it comes to cupcakes and tailor-made cakes. With a warm setting, Berko invites you to explore their colorful treats, both sweet and savory.

Address: 23 Rue Rambuteau in the 4th arrondissement.

Chez Bogato 

Opened in 2009, Chez Bogato is a creative pastry shop that specializes in cakes for parties and surprise events. An essential pastry shop, Chez Bogato offers more than just cakes. It also provides a unique selection of colorful decorations and small gifts. Their boutique in Marais has a wide selection of vinyl records to pair with their confetti and custom cakes.

Address: 5, Rue Saint-Merri in the 4th arrondissement.

Sweet Paris: Seasonal Recipes from an American Baker in France

If you want to make cakes at home inspired by Paris, look no further than @cakeboyparis on Instagram, Frank Adrian Barron who just released Sweet Paris: Seasonal Recipes from an American Baker in France this year!

How about you? Did you grow up believing that Marie-Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake?” Were you surprised to read the real story? Do tell! Do you love cake? Tell me your favorite! Have you had cake in Paris? Do share!

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16 Comments

  1. Cool history! I’m trying to figure out why Marie ended up being a beloved person? Did she eventually get seen in a different way? I love the bakeries you shared. So beautiful.

  2. I had no idea that Marie Antoinette was a queen at the age of 15. I hated history class so that’s probably why I don’t remember. I can’t believe they beheaded her. Punishment back then was very harsh compared to people sitting in jail today for their actions.

  3. I knew very little about Marie Antoinette before reading this. I love that you’ve included some great places to enjoy good cakes!!!

  4. The photos were very lovely, Marie had a good eye for decadence… although… it’s so sad to think of how young she was when she married, and into so much power and money. It’s no wonder she was so out of touch with the real world, it was like a little girl got to play royalty for real and never had to learn how to grow up.

  5. So interesting to read and learn about Marie Antoinette. I knew a little bit about her, but realized I definitely didn’t know very much after reading this! Sadly I think we pick up a lot of random information from movies that aren’t always accurate.

  6. I am glad to find out so many new facts about Marie Antoinette. You made me curious. I would like to read more about the French Queen. It’s an important part of French history!

  7. I have seen the movie about her and this is really cool. Love all of the beautiful pictures!

  8. I visited Petit Trianon when I was a child and first heard about Marie Antionette then. I didn’t realize that she was so young when she got married.

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