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"Let them eat cake"

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"Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Mon Apr 08, 2013 6:35 pm

According to legend, when Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, was told that her subjects had no bread to eat she replied, “Let them eat cake!” If individuals could not afford or obtain bread, obtaining a more luxurious item was a flat impossibility and so her response was evidence of her naiveté at best and frigid apathy at worst.

The twist is she never said that, as well well know. But I got curious as to how that legend got spread around and did some digging. I thought I'd share my theory here to test its validity.

Some scholars trace this legend to Rousseau’s Confessions, where an anonymous French princess responds “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” upon learning of the starvation of her people. Brioche, a luxury bread enriched with eggs and butter, is not precisely synonymous with the English idea of cake but the translation was likely modified to appeal to Anglophone minds.

In any case, bastardized translation or no, Marie Antoinette was not likely the French princess Rousseau was referring to in his autobiography, considering it was not completed until 1769 – making Antoinette approximately fourteen years old and not someone whose opinion on the status of the French people would be sought. This is of course, assuming that Rousseau really did have a tangible princess in mind and was not instead making a story up for poignancy’s sake.

Marie Antoinette being, essentially, exonerated from this calumny the question remains: where did it come from? I have seen some insist that it was invented by the scheming courtiers at Versailles, led by Madame du Barry, while others insist that it was a form of Revolutionary propaganda printed in order to discredit Antoinette in the eyes of the masses.
In reality, whie Madame du Barry was fond of deriding Antoinette’s Austrian heritage and some Revolutionaries were fond of the caricatures of the L’Austrichienne, the reality is that there is no evidence that Antoinette was ever accused of uttering her most famous phrase during her lifetime.

Véronique Campion-Vincent, who co-authored a study tracing the origins of the phrase, scored over the slanderous pamphlets and contemporary records and could not find a single incident of this most famous calumny being attached to Antoinette during the 18th century, not by the witty Camille Desmoulins, the rabid Jean-Paul Marat or the fiery Pere Duchesne or any of their Revolutionary peers. The omission need not surprise us; the Revolutionaries, who are often derided as being the inventors of the legend, were often devotees of Rousseau, who was, as I said, likely the source of the legend for future generations. Of all people they would know best that Marie Antoinette was too young to be the princess their hero referred to in his autobiography.

Ironically, the first written record connecting Marie Antoinette with the phrase is a work published in the 19th century that specifically denies that it was a phrase of the queen’s. Of course, no historian is going to disprove a legend that has not been argued so I suspect that the legend of Marie Antoinette’s cake-giving antics was spread not by malicious revolutionaries, but by ignorant history buffs who knew just enough history to know that Rousseau had said something nasty about a French princess and that a French princess was beheaded by her people…but not enough history to know that the French princesses in question were separate human beings.

I would argue, then, that the misquote belongs less in the category of "political propaganda," since none of her political enemies spread the legend in her lifetime, and more in the category of "urban legends" since it was spread innocently rather than maliciously.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:08 am

My often quoted Hungarian historian Péter Hahner has another interesting detail to this legend. He recalls an anecdote about the alleged "stupidness" of a daugther of Louis XV, because she once asked "If people are hungry, why don't they eat the burned edge of the pastries?" But Hahner also adds that Madame Victoire wasn't stupid or socially indifferent, because she meant, on the contrary, that rich people throw the worse parts of pastries away, while other people can't have anything to eat. Even Antoinette could say something similar, we all know she cared about poor people's situation, and voilá, today everyone thinks she was the socially indifferent one Mad

So this is a "wandering" story. There are at least four people whose names are associated with it: Rousseau's princess, Marie-Therese (wife of the Sun King), Madame Victoire, and Antoinette. And maybe even more people if you do some research. I can't do anything else but telling people that it's something false, but unfortunately, the legend is stronger than me... I also sing the Queen song the way "Let them eat cake, she says, not like Marie-Antoinette..." Laughing

Anyway, I like to do some research about those wandering anecdotes about historical figures, but not the malicious ones like this, or the "Maria Theresa (Empress and Queen) had orgies with Hungarian soldiers"-one... poor old Habsburg women! Razz
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 09, 2013 11:26 am

But Hahner also adds that Madame Victoire wasn't stupid or socially indifferent, because she meant, on the contrary, that rich people throw the worse parts of pastries away, while other people can't have anything to eat. Even Antoinette could say something similar, we all know she cared about poor people's situation, and voilá, today everyone thinks she was the socially indifferent one

I've heard this variation on Antoinette's alleged quote. The whole "yeah, she said it, but she meant it nicely" never quite flew with me - I'm not debating her motives one way or another but rather insisting that she never said it. It's hard to prove a negative but even the positive has yet to be proven and that's really where the burden lies.

In any case, you're right; the quote has been attributed to many people. In the 18th century, true, but also more contemporarily, often by Antoniette's well-meaning defenders. "No, the queen didn't say this! It was her nasty aunts!" Such transference makes me uncomfortable, if only because I think it's hypocritical to lament Antoinette's slander-fueled reputation while simultaneously slandering other people. Unless your quarrel is not with slander per se but rather in slandering this one person you like, the calumnies against the Mesdames should make us no less disgruntled than the calumnies against Antoinette. But that's a discussion for another day and in any case, I suspect that the transference is fueled primarily out of ignorance than maliciousness: see "urban legend" above.

But back on point, because the quote is attributed to so many, I've seen some scholars speculate that the attribution was a common insult. Whenever there was a rich person you disliked you would say, "Oh, she's the sort of person who says 'let them eat cake'" or some such. They understood the idiom at the time but it's since been lost to us, except for how it has evolved into an allegation against Antoinette.

Anyway, I like to do some research about those wandering anecdotes about historical figures, but not the malicious ones like this, or the "Maria Theresa (Empress and Queen) had orgies with Hungarian soldiers"-one... poor old Habsburg women

I understand. I'm just generally curious about all sorts of legends, and most legends are malicious... D:


Last edited by Bunnies on Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:21 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:26 pm

Bunnies wrote:Such transference makes me uncomfortable, if only because I think it's hypocritical to lament Antoinette's slander-fueled reputation while simultaneously slandering other people.

Same with me. I also dislike those people who blame Louis for Antoinette's faults. Zweig and his fans, there are too much of them... but it's another topic. Back to the quote, I can imagine that Madame Victoire said something like that, but it's in a memoir and memoirs are always too subjective to call their data "the one and only truth". But I'm sure Antoinette never said that, the anecdote is older than her, maybe she even knew it! I think she read some of Rousseau's work, anyway.

And about the anecdotes that contain sex or blood - they are the most popular. There are even worse ones than those mentioned above. I just thank God that if people think of Antoinette, they have at worst this "let them eat cake"-thing in their head rather than believing she was a pedophile who slept with her own son. If there's a mess to destroy someone's reputation, she really received everything Crying or Very sad
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:36 pm

I can imagine that Madame Victoire said something like that, but it's in a memoir and memoirs are always too subjective to call their data "the one and only truth". But I'm sure Antoinette never said that, the anecdote is older than her, maybe she even knew it! I think she read some of Rousseau's work, anyway.

Whose memoirs are the source of the accusation against Madame Victoire? Or are you referring to Rousseau's generalized "French princess"?

I just thank God that if people think of Antoinette, they have at worst this "let them eat cake"-thing in their head rather than believing she was a pedophile who slept with her own son. If there's a mess to destroy someone's reputation, she really received everything Crying or Very sad

Hmmm...I suppose it shouldn't be categorized as slander, since the argument isn't meant to be derogatory, but I've always disliked the Coppolaesque "look at Antoinette! She was just like you, an American teenager!" interpretations that have been flying around. Ah, our concept of teenager was not around in the 18th century. And even if it was, would Antoinette's mounting the throne at 19 really qualify her to be consistently described as a "teen queen" as she was so often for all the fanfare of the 2006 film? It is meant to be complimentary, as something as an excuse for her behavior, but I've always seen it as condescending. It deprives her of any noble bearing come the Revolution, dismisses her political opinions and activities, and confines her to the role of child rather than historical figure. Not to mention how, ah, her wild extravagance has been greatly exaggerated anyway, and so rather than excused it just needs to be mitigated. But that sounds like work so let's juts call her "teen queen" and be done with it.

Okay.

But that's really the worse she has to deal with today - people thinking that she was too frivolous to be held responsible for her actions. You're right; nobody, especially in the serious histories, have anything worse to say. I've read a variety of sources, including rabid red Communist ones, and even Mathiez refers to her as the "poor queen" and Lefebvre outright dismisses the whole "let them eat cake" thing offhandedly. Oh, they have their criticisms, certainly, but they tend to be fair coming from their point of view (Mathiez dislikes Antoinette's position on the war question, for example). Such are Antoinette's enemies today. Since they're so relaxed, it does seem as though Antoinette is in a peculiar place where it is her pseudo-admirers who do her reputation more harm than her enemies, with their "teen queen," she-spent-France-into-ruin-BUT-she-didn't-know-any-better apologia...
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:23 pm

Bunnies wrote:Whose memoirs are the source of the accusation against Madame Victoire?

According to Hahner, it's in "Mémoires de la Comtesse de Boigne née d'Osmond". I don't know this book, this countess was maybe a member of the Versailles Court in the days of Louis XV.

"look at Antoinette! She was just like you, an American teenager!"

It makes my blood pressure higher Very Happy Teen queen. Haha. An 19-year-old woman had the lifestyle of a 29-year-old woman of today with children and family life. Having the first child at the age of 22-23, as Antoinette did, was considered quite late! Extravagance, duties of a woman and sexuality also had other meanings for them, so I don't think the popular filmmakers and biographers (Fraser and Zweig) really understood Antoinette. No one can understand her from the 21st century, that's the sad truth. The result is a struggle to modernize her and sell as a pop culture icon (smell of blood -> sellable), as Coppola tried to do... but you can't modernize someone who lived in a palace with etiquette, servants and with a 18. century mind.

And she WAS responsible for her decisions and actions. From a French point of view, she's a homeland traitor by sending the war secrets to Mercy. From the Austrian one, she helped her real homeland, the family by blood, and (for me, most important point) such people who didn't want to humiliate and murder her. I find it funny that the revolutioners executed Louis because of "treason". Anyway, how you define "homeland"? This was the question that 18th people also couldn't answer the way we do (and I think we also can't Laughing ).
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:56 pm

And she WAS responsible for her decisions and actions. From a French point of view, she's a homeland traitor by sending the war secrets to Mercy.

Thank you. There are a great many people who seem to genuinely believe that Antoinette was beheaded because of the misattribution of the "let them eat cake" quote. For one, such a belief is rather absurd because as I said, the accusation was never leveled against her in her lifetime --- and for another, it sorta... belittles her. If you are of counter-revolutionary opinion, and most of Antoinette's admirers are, than her correspondence with the Austrians and her other mechanizations, they are her most heroic deeds of all. Antoinette would probably think they were heroic, she wasn't ashamed of them. Why then do so many admirers try to hide the political Machiavelli behind the Teen Queen? One is far more interesting, and indeed inspiring, than the other.

On a personal note, her behavior during the Revolution is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite thing about her. Since I am of Revolutionary sympathy, I don't much like someone trying to overthrow the Revolution's gains. But honestly, as a human being, I wouldn't respect her if she just sat on her hands and helplessly let the world run her by. The woman had backbone, the woman had guts, and the woman was far more than the victim of propaganda.

From the Austrian one, she helped her real homeland, the family by blood, and (for me, most important point) such people who didn't want to humiliate and murder her.

Well, the argument here would be that you may be reversing your correlations. Would the Revolutionaries had been so intent on killing her had she not been conspiring with the Austrians? (Revolutionary leaders, mind you, we're not discussing the "mob). And we can't say that Antoinette only conspired due to fear for her children - she was hostile to all who were not absolute monarchists, even if they certainly did not want to hurt her or her children. Barnave, Lafayette, etc. No one has ever accused the them of wanting to hurt the royal family, but she flees for Varennes while they are at the height of their power, doing much to undercut them, incidentally.

Anyway, how you define "homeland"? This was the question that 18th people also couldn't answer the way we do (and I think we also can't Laughing ).

In reality, even royalists and Republicans defined their country differently. Although we say that the French and Austrians had different perspectives on Antoinette's correspondence with Mercy, it was less a national point of view than an ideological one. A Royalist would say that the Nation and the King are one entity and to be loyal to one is to be loyal to another. A king simply could not commit treason because he was the state - unless he perhaps tried to commit suicide. Marie Antoinette, then, by being loyal to Louis, was never a traitor. Sure, she corresponded with enemies of the Revolution, but the enemies of the Revolution were a threat to Louis's power and the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

From the Republican (or rather, Revolutionary) point of view, the nation and the king were separate entities. Instead of being the physical manifestation of the nation, the king was a particularly powerful Representative of the nation. And from this perspective, since Antoinette was treating the Representative more importantly than the Nation, she was committing treason against the State. So too with Louis. That really is the rub: They were both absolutely guilty from the Revolutionary perspective. They were absolutely innocent from the Royalist one.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:46 pm

Bunnies wrote:Antoinette would probably think they were heroic, she wasn't ashamed of them. Why then do so many admirers try to hide the political Machiavelli behind the Teen Queen? One is far more interesting, and indeed inspiring, than the other.

I absolutely agree. That's why I say she's not a traitor. Traitors, in my opinion, play a double act and hide their real intent (which is often their own interest without taking care on others'). Antoinette never said she supported anti-royalism, indeed she never did it, and of course she was proud of her active role. I love Mirabeau's quote: "There's only one man at the king's side, his wife." Laughing Even if the royal family sympathized with some ideas of the 1789 revolution, this was in 1792 soon another situation, and Antoinette played the only role she could play in this "game". My first impression about Antoinette was this one, the brave and active queen, long before Coppola's film was released.


Well, the argument here would be that you may be reversing your correlations. Would the Revolutionaries had been so intent on killing her had she not been conspiring with the Austrians? (Revolutionary leaders, mind you, we're not discussing the "mob).

We'll never know how things could have happened. But if you think about how revolutioners later handled with any royals as "disgusting beasts", killing even Madame Dubarry and old Madame Noailles just because they were once at the Court... I think Louis and Antoinette would have had the similar fate if they hadn't done anything. I personally admire those people who try to fight even when there's no hope, just for ideals... and to die for ideals.

EDIT: I hope I understood your question correctly... if my answer above is for another question, please tell it! Embarassed

That really is the rub: They were both absolutely guilty from the Revolutionary perspective. They were absolutely innocent from the Royalist one.

Of course. It's not a fairytale with "goods" and "bads".
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 09, 2013 8:06 pm

Sophie wrote:
I absolutely agree. That's why I say she's not a traitor. Traitors, in my opinion, play a double act and hide their real intent (which is often their own interest).

Mmm. But then you come to the problem: Can you only betray a government you believe is legitimate? You may knee-jerk respond yes, but who would ever betray a government they believe is legitimate, who would ever betray a government they believe deserves their loyalty? Unless we are going to say that treason is a fictitious concept, these definitions cannot hold true.

In any case, Antoinette did play a double-act. She seems to have promised Barnave that she would be amendable to the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy, and he based much of his political platform on her promise. She lied to him and used him in order to press her own agenda. Whether or not her agenda or duplicity were noble endeavors is an entirely separate debate.

Even if the royal family sympathized with some ideas of the 1789 revolution, this was in 1792 soon another situation, and Antoinette played the only role she could play in this "game".

I would even disagree here. Aside from Louis, the royal family tended to be very hostile to the 1789 Revolution - and Louis, indeed, was even reluctant to ratify the Declaration of the Rights of Man. From the very beginning there was a friction between even the most moderate of Revolutionaries and the Royalists and this is one of the reasons the Revolution escalated the way it did: your Constitutional Monarchy can only function if the Constitutional Monarch believes in the validity of the Constitution. Not that it is all Louis's fault, of course, the Revolutionaries should have been more indulgent towards his religious views, which were indeed shared by millions of French people, but to argue that the Royal Family was only counter-revolutionary because they believed the Revolution to threaten their lives cannot stand to scrutiny.

Remember: In 1789, even Jean-Paul Marat was a devoted royalist who wrote about the virtues of Louis XVI. It's worth wondering what changed his mind.

We'll never know how things could have happened. But if you think about how revolutioners later handled with any royals as "disgusting beasts", killing even Madame Dubarry and old Madame Noailles just because they were once at the Court...

The idea that the Revolutionaries hunted down all former aristocrats for the guillotine is a false one. As I mentioned in another thread on this forum, one courtier at Versailles, Herault de Sechelles who was a cousin of the Polignac, was even a member of the Committee of Public Safety. You can't get much more entrenched in the Republican government than that - his political views were revolutionary, and so his blue blood did not highlight him as a target. (He would be guillotined, sure, but in the Dantonist Purge - a very Revolutionary death).

I've never researched Madame Noialles so I can't comment, but there is actually a great deal of evidence that Madame Dubarry may have been genuinely involved in counter-revolutionary activity. I actually have a quote on hand by the historian Norman Hampson who briefly weighed the charges:

The case against du Barry may well conceal further British intervention. The whole business of her jewels being stolen by thieves who tried to dispose them in England seems somewhat far-fetched. The thieves were caught and Madame Dubarry was entertained, when she came to claim her property, by her old friend Forth - who had been employed by a Britishh agent in France during the War of American Independence. The French Embassy in London had suggested to the Foreign Ministry in July 1789 that if Forth was in Paris this might explain disorders in the capital. When she was in London, Madame Dubarry met Pitt. She was known to be a generous woman, but even so it seems rather extravagant of her to have lent the cardianal de la Rochefoucauld 200,000 livres. The Committee of General Security certainly thought her activities enough to justify having her followed by two agents, one in England and one in France. At the trail of the ‘Dantonists’ the newspaper, le Batave, reported that Chabot was accused of having protected her.

The CSP has been called many things, but incompetent ain't one of them, and you don't hire two agents to keep tabs on someone you want to behead for novelty's sake unless you're incompetent. If nothing else, the sum of the evidence indicates that the Jacobin Government was at least genuine in its belief that she was a traitor.

There were political trials, sure, but I wouldn't put du Barry's in that category. Philippe d'Orleans' I would, but even he wasn't beheaded due to his aristocratic birth but rather to firmly rebut the common charge that the Jacobins wanted to put him on the throne.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:29 pm

Bunnies wrote:In any case, Antoinette did play a double-act. She seems to have promised Barnave that she would be amendable to the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy, and he based much of his political platform on her promise. She lied to him and used him in order to press her own agenda. Whether or not her agenda or duplicity were noble endeavors is an entirely separate debate.

For this, I can't say anything smart. I would prefer the "interpretation" of her intention again - could it be that Antoinette simply changed her mind, or something happened that is unknown for us (pity that so many letters were burned or lost in history), and it led her to do this...? We'll never find out, because we aren't in her shoes. But it's the cultural anthropologist student in me, and you're a historian, so this is a scientific method gap, I suppose Very Happy

Aside from Louis, the royal family tended to be very hostile to the 1789 Revolution - and Louis, indeed, was even reluctant to ratify the Declaration of the Rights of Man. From the very beginning there was a friction between even the most moderate of Revolutionaries and the Royalists and this is one of the reasons the Revolution escalated the way it did: your Constitutional Monarchy can only function if the Constitutional Monarch believes in the validity of the Constitution. Not that it is all Louis's fault, of course, the Revolutionaries should have been more indulgent towards his religious views, which were indeed shared by millions of French people, but to argue that the Royal Family was only counter-revolutionary because they believed the Revolution to threaten their lives cannot stand to scrutiny.

I know you neglect the mob's role in this story, and you're particularly right if it's about political ideologies, but I can't forget the psychological side. The royals lived from the day 6 October 1789, but even earlier, in a daily threat because of the mob. If they disliked the whole idea of the revolution from the beginnings (it can be), it's maybe because they felt themselves in danger rather than they were blind for the values of the revolution. I could recall other examples from history, too, how the same events are interpreted in different ways because some were on the tortured side and some on the relieved... but it's not professional history, it's anthropology (oral history) again.
And about the religious part, I agree with Simon Schama that Louis was not only motivated by his own religious views (although it's important, too), but he simply didn't want to occure a religious war in the country, or making the life of the priests, swore to the constitution or not, even harder. If you were a priest and didn't swore, you were departed. If you did, you were out of your own church. So, it was a hard situation, and the laws were so created, that Louis couldn't do anything else but saying "veto", which made him unpopular. Maybe that was one of their aims, to make Louis more unpopular... (It's Schama's opinion, too.)

The idea that the Revolutionaries hunted down all former aristocrats for the guillotine is a false one. As I mentioned in another thread on this forum, one courtier at Versailles, Herault de Sechelles who was a cousin of the Polignac, was even a member of the Committee of Public Safety. You can't get much more entrenched in the Republican government than that - his political views were revolutionary, and so his blue blood did not highlight him as a target. (He would be guillotined, sure, but in the Dantonist Purge - a very Revolutionary death).

There were political trials, sure, but I wouldn't put du Barry's in that category. Philippe d'Orleans' I would, but even he wasn't beheaded due to his aristocratic birth but rather to firmly rebut the common charge that the Jacobins wanted to put him on the throne.

Herault de Sechelles might be an interesting figure Smile I think Philippe Orleans-Egalite was officially convicted because his son secretly emigrated during 1793, and this was too suspicious... but maybe it was only a pretense to hide the real reason.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:02 pm

Sophie wrote:
If they disliked the whole idea of the revolution from the beginnings (it can be), it's maybe because they felt themselves in danger rather than they were blind for the values of the revolution.

To make this argument, you would have to give me some evidence that the family ever had sympathetic views towards the Revolution or its values. As it is, we know that Louis XVI explicitly gave a speech to the Estates-General telling them to forget about reforms. We know that Louis XVI dismissed Necker, who was perceived to be the Third Estates' Champion, we know that he summoned 20,000 troops to Versailles --- all before the Bastille is stormed, shifting the burden of "self-defense" to the Revolutionaries. There is little evidence to indicate that the royal family was ever inclined to revolutionary sympathy and a great deal to say in contest.


I agree with Simon Schama that Louis was not only motivated by his own religious views (although it's important, too), but he simply didn't want to occure a religious war in the country, or making the life of the priests, swore to the constitution or not, even harder. If you were a priest and didn't swore, you were departed. If you did, you were out of your own church. So, it was a hard situation, and the laws were so created, that Louis couldn't do anything else but saying "veto", which made him unpopular. Maybe that was one of their aims, to make Louis more unpopular...

Yes, that's what I was trying to say. The Revolutionaries' handling of the religious question was disastrous. I don't think their aims were to make Louis unpopular, however. Again, he was still very popular among even the most radical the Revolutionary leaders, they didn't want to discredit him because they still liked him.


Herault de Sechelles might be an interesting figure Smile I think Philippe Orleans-Egalite was officially convicted because his son secretly emigrated during 1793, and this was too suspicious... but maybe it was only a pretense to hide the real reason.

Oh yes, Philippe was officially convicted due to suspicions that he was involved in his son's conspiracies. But it was a political trial, one of the jurors - it was either Herman or one of the Payan brothers, I forget which - even wrote to a peer about how although he knew the ci-devant duc to be innocent he declared him guilty anyway because of political necessity.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Wed Apr 10, 2013 6:35 am

Bunnies wrote:To make this argument, you would have to give me some evidence that the family ever had sympathetic views towards the Revolution or its values.

Maybe not specifically with the revolution itself, as it happened in 1789, but you can't say Louis was unable to develop the country in the last one and half decades. The so popular image of the unprogressive king who just sat on his throne seeing how things happened, hunting all the time, and his queen spending the money of the state... it's simply not true. Louis wanted to reform France and let his people happy (now I recall Schama again, he writes quite long about the era between 1774-1789). Maybe he was an untalented politician to do all the changes on his own, but not a diehard "everything-is-OK-nothing-has-to-change"-type. The revoultion's "actual politic" with its agendas and interests is another question, but I reject the point of view that Louis was anti-revolutioner because he wanted to conservate a bad situation. This is the worst, when all the political motivated people have good purposes, but in the end they rivalize with each other and kill each other... this is bad for the country itself Sad
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Wed Apr 10, 2013 10:53 am

Sophie wrote:
Bunnies wrote:To make this argument, you would have to give me some evidence that the family ever had sympathetic views towards the Revolution or its values.

Maybe not specifically with the revolution itself, as it happened in 1789, but you can't say Louis was unable to develop the country in the last one and half decades. The so popular image of the unprogressive king who just sat on his throne seeing how things happened, hunting all the time, and his queen spending the money of the state... it's simply not true. Louis wanted to reform France and let his people happy (now I recall Schama again, he writes quite long about the era between 1774-1789). Maybe he was an untalented politician to do all the changes on his own, but not a diehard "everything-is-OK-nothing-has-to-change"-type. The revoultion's "actual politic" with its agendas and interests is another question, but I reject the point of view that Louis was anti-revolutioner because he wanted to conservate a bad situation. This is the worst, when all the political motivated people have good purposes, but in the end they rivalize with each other and kill each other... this is bad for the country itself Sad

Oh yeah, sure. But it is evident that Louis believed that all the reforms should flow from his person and that the idea that they could come from below - like the Third Estate - was an anathema. This contradiction is one of the things that toppled him. The nobility disliked his reformatory inclinations, the revolutionaries disliked his absolutist way of conniving at them (particularly since his mechanizations ended in failure anyway).

But again, you may be reversing your correlations for the last point: you cannot say Louis was adverse to the Revolution's agenda due to his pacifism, because he was adverse before there was any violence. How Louis "felt' about the Revolutionary reforms is a non-issue to me. What matters is what he did, and what he did was place himself as a roadblock throughout, even having to be forced into ratifying the Declaration of the Rights of Man, not to mention the August decrees. Oh yes, we've given him a pass on his religious stance earlier, but there were other issues - such as the abolition of serfdom, which is effectively slavery - that should not have been so appalling. If we wanted to shift into truly hostile territory, we could say that Louis's behavior was even more reprehensible than a I-Think-Everything-is-okay-but-am-misinformed-why-change-attitude, as he acknowledged that there were necessary reforms to be made...but refused to allow these reforms to take place, instead wanting to be the sole savior of his people , a lofty position that he was unequipped for.

Moreover, your argument he-was-just-against violence also ignores all instances of absolute monarchist violence - royalists were very proud of their violence contemporarily, and it is only their modern-day apologists who try to sweep it under the rug. Certainly, Louis himself isn't entirely innocent - see the aforementioned 20,000 troops he called from Versailles. You can't say that you are trying to mitigate violence when you yourself are playing a game of escalation. And I know we make a great show about how Louis never-would-have-used-the-troops...except, well, he tried to around this time : but the soldiers were disciplined for refusing to fire on French people. This is not a lack of will, but a lack of ability. It is at this juncture that the Bastille is stormed and that the precedent of violence is set.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Elena on Fri Apr 12, 2013 8:29 pm

Bunnies and Sophie, thank you for a superb discussion!! This is immensely helpful and interesting!!
Smile queen

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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Mon Apr 15, 2013 12:28 pm

Elena wrote:Bunnies and Sophie, thank you for a superb discussion!! This is immensely helpful and interesting!!
Smile queen

It couldn't be possible without such a nice platform as your forum is Smile I've just realized you even dedicated a blog post to this discussion... thank you!!!! Very Happy
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Elena on Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:42 pm

I think this is a great discussion for serious students of Louis and Antoinette. Smile

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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Mon Apr 15, 2013 7:57 pm

Awe, yay! Thank you very much! rabbit I'm a taaad embarrassed that I didn't proofread my spelling more carefully but that just goes to show. Thank you, this is wonderful! alien
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:01 pm

Tiptoeing back to the initial topic, I was perusing some of the backthreads of this forum and in this thread an interesting article by one Gareth Russel was quoted. In this article, he includes the following speculation:

Others think that because the French Revolution was able to dress itself up as the force that brought freedom and equality to Europe, it had to justify its many acts of violence and terror. Executing Marie-Antoinette at the age of thirty-seven and leaving her two children as shivering, heart-broken orphans in the terrifying Temple prison, suggested that the Revolution was a lot more complicated than its supporters like to claimed. However, if Marie-Antoinette is painted as stupid, deluded, out-of-touch, spoiled and selfish, then we're likely to feel a lot less pity when it comes to studying her death. If that was the republicans' intention, then they did a very good job. Two hundred years later and the poor woman is still stuck with a terrible reputation, and a catchphrase, that she certainly doesn't deserve.

I'd like to use this as a springboard to discuss how the legend's utility has evolved. Many years ago when Bunnies was younger, she didn't know a single thing about the French Revolution except that it happened and maybe some people's heads fell off. My first introduction to it beyond the bare-bones basics you pick up in cartoons and on the streets was this fact: That Marie-Antoinette never said let them eat cake. Before I even knew who Marie-Antoinette was, I knew what she wasn't: a let-them-eat-cake...sayer. (I haven't slept, bear with me.) And it's not just me: my father collected mass amounts of magazine articles in his day, and so without even perusing the archives on the Internet, I can tell you what Time Magazine, National Geographic, and a myriad of other big-name magazines opened their articles on the Bicentennial with: Marie-Antoinette never said let them eat cake. It's not a myth that is seriously touted anymore, and no history book - no matter how leftist - still references it. It is only unearthed for the occasional political scandal, usually in reference to a female politician who is perceived to have little interest in the poor.

But far, far more often, it is now employed not to blacken the royalist cause but is instead inverted to blacken the Revolutionary one. Marie-Antoinette never said let them eat cake, the Revolutionaries just made that up to be nasty! They lied about this, what else could they be lying about? Everything! A tenuous thesis in itself but it gets particularly problematic, the Revolution almost becoming a Giant Misunderstanding between what the mob and Antoinette. The Storming of the Bastille? "Let them eat cake," that's what did it! The Women's March on Versailles? Just because they hated Antoinette! June 20th? Antoinette. August 10th? Antoinette. Thermidor? Screw it, it was probably spurred on by hatred for Antoinette - Robespierre kept powdering his hair, you see, and the mob got confused and thought he was a cross dressing Marie-Antoinette.

Now the problem with this is (aside from the blatant oversimplification, misconception or no) the Revolutionaries did not spread this legend about. Nor did the Revolutionaries' admirers as some of the lefties have outright debunked the myth themselves and the others don't appear to have mentioned it at all. So the "let them eat cake" myth was never a calculated effort on the part of the 18th century or contemporary left to shroud the Revolution in laurels. But nonetheless, they are generally credited as being responsible for its circulation: which is itself a calumny. I said before that defending Marie-Antoinette by slandering the Mesdames should be equally horrific as slandering Marie-Antoinette unless our quarrel is not with distortions intrinsically but rather with distortions of our own flagship historical figure. The same case holds true here. It is equally irresponsible to credit the Revolutionaries for spreading the "let them eat cake" myth as it is to seriously cite the quote as being Antoinette's. After all, they are as innocent as saying she said it as she is of saying it.

In regards to her historiogaphy, her exoneration from this quote has tended to be used as a blank check of exoneration for all other sins. And so Antoinette's death is solely due to a misconception over cake. Like the Copplaesque myth I lampooned earlier this is a double-edged sword that simultaneously characterizes the Revolutionaries and Antoinette as devious and inept, respectively. The former were selfishly using a myth in order to push their own agenda. And Antoinette, she just sat on her hands and let the Revolution sweep her away, an innocent little waif who passively allowed her husband to fall from his throne. There is no correspondence with Austria, there is no passing battle plans over to invaders, there is no political intrigue with Barnave, there is no attempts to encourage Louis XVI to use force: she is deprived of all spirit and fight, and transformed into a pacifistic victim rather than a Machiavellian Warrior.

And that last moniker isn't meant to be derogatory. When your life is at stake, when your family is at stake, sitting in your ivory tower and sighing lamentably as the world charges at you isn't the definition of a hero. It's the definition of a coward. And it's starting to irritate me that Antoinette has been pigeonholed into this label in order to shroud her as a sacrificial lamb.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Elena on Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:43 pm

Great points! Thank you, Bunnies. Smile No, being a victim does not automatically make you a hero. What does make you a hero is the spirit with which you respond to afflictions. Both Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette responded in a spirit of forgiveness and showed great Christian fortitude at the hour of death. Those qualities are what make them heroic, not the mere fact of suffering in itself.

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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Thu Apr 25, 2013 1:41 am

Elena wrote:Great points! Thank you, Bunnies. Smile No, being a victim does not automatically make you a hero. What does make you a hero is the spirit with which you respond to afflictions. Both Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette responded in a spirit of forgiveness and showed great Christian fortitude at the hour of death. Those qualities are what make them heroic, not the mere fact of suffering in itself.

Certainly. But Antoinette's belief in absolutism was not due to a desire for power but both as a shield to protect her family and as a structure set in place by God. This being the case, for all I disagree with Antoinette's politics, had she not acted in the manner she did - that is, had she not been a genuine counter-revolutionary, had she not conspired - I would see nothing in her to admire. Many would have us believe she was a victimized pacifist who fell only because she sat on her hands and allowed the Revolution to sweep her away, lacking the gumption or nerve to fight for what she believed to be right. In other words: Allowing her children to be deprived because she didn't feel like defending them. Sacrificing yourself in the name of peace and forgiveness is certainly heroic; sacrificing your children and the country you believe God told you to watch over for the same reasons is not. You can do whatever you want to yourself but don't drag other people into it.

In reality the woman did her best to defend herself and her beliefs and sometimes the methods she employed weren't "nice." Good on her. It's war and I don't exactly see Marat singing kumbayaa. My quarrels with this faction of Antoinette's life is more in regard to her choice of characters to manipulate and endanger - the incompetence, her choice of timing and avatars, but not the attempt intrinsically.

So yeah: certainly her composure during the hour of her death was laudable. But I think how she tried her best to avoid death is pretty impressive too. Fight as hard as you can and fall with grace.
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Elena on Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:38 am

Yes, the Queen did her best to free herself and her family!

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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:59 am

I find it really interesting that there are two remarkable types of people interested in Antoinette. Some of them see her as an "image", and when they say they admire her, in reality they only admire her times, the white wigs, the baroque castles and the rococo clothes. They don't care what Antoinette did, for them is she a mere pop/fashion icon. I think Coppola is one of them, because she declared that her film is based on only one biography. Well, what about the others? Reading and discussing a lot about her, and revisiting our former opinions...? And, even if those people also know that Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake", they might find it deep in their hearts well-fitting to their concept about "the women who spent so much money for clothes, because she had such a style..." blah blah blah.

But there are (thank God!) other people who are interested in Antoinette's real character, in her role at the court and during the revolution. It's about forgetting the externalities and concentrating on her as a human being, together with her family, friends and "enemies". I admit that she and Louis had many faults as humans and as politicians, too, so I keep trying not to idolize them, but the more I read about them, the more I love them. For me, they are the perfect romantic heroes, or we can consider them as Christian martyrs, too, as Elena mentioned here.

Of course there are much more people who only know the "image" Antoinette. After so many years, I can get from a 1-2 minute long discussion or from a single blog post, if the interest is in the person or in the image. But it's sad that I can't discuss with the admirers of the "image" Antoinette, because it's like an European and an African discussing about what "hot" means. It's a silly example, but appropriate Smile

That's why I'm glad that there are such blogs and forums where I can find those people who are on the same "level" as myself, and it's even better if we have different opinions. This forum is a miracle Very Happy
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Thu Apr 25, 2013 11:32 am

Sophie wrote:I find it really interesting that there are two remarkable types of people interested in Antoinette. Some of them see her as an "image", and when they say they admire her, in reality they only admire her times, the white wigs, the baroque castles and the rococo clothes. They don't care what Antoinette did, for them is she a mere pop/fashion icon. I think Coppola is one of them, because she declared that her film is based on only one biography. Well, what about the others? Reading and discussing a lot about her, and revisiting our former opinions...? And, even if those people also know that Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake", they might find it deep in their hearts well-fitting to their concept about "the women who spent so much money for clothes, because she had such a style..." blah blah blah.

I'd be interested to know which came first: the chicken or the egg. Did Coppola make her biopic to cater to the army of fans gushing over Antoinette's fashion or was the army of fans born from Coppola's biopic?

And you did touch on an interesting facet of the "let them eat cake" quote too: just as some people believe it fits her character nonetheless to say, the quote itself can be interpreted two ways - and in the two interpretations, Antoinette's character is drastically changed. One is almost defensible, when informed of her people's suffering the unworldly and sheltered queen suggested "Let them eat cake!" She's not malicious in this version, just a confused, which definitely fits in with the common portrayal of Antoinette being exonerated from all the excesses of the ancien regime due to her being unaware of the suffering of others. Sometimes, however, the quote is turned on its head. Antoinette is aware of the suffering of her people, she is aware that they could never afford cake, but she just doesn't care. In the former the speaker is absolutely innocent and in the latter the speaker is almost demonic in her sadism.

Since the quote's origin seems to be primarily from word-of-mouth and laymen, I can't help but wonder if the former interpretation (which does have more grounding in Rousseau's confessions) was actually employed by some of Antoinette's more ignorant admirers in order to defend her. Wash away the bloodthirsty harpy and replace her with the wide-eyed child whose only crime is naivete. It may have here been seized by more Republican-oriented laymen, who spun it around to make the "Let them eat cake!" comment malicious.

Of course there are much more people who only know the "image" Antoinette. After so many years, I can get from a 1-2 minute long discussion or from a single blog post, if the interest is in the person or in the image.

That's a good skill to have. Personally, I take no risks and ask with as much politeness as I can muster whether their interest is in the historical figure or the film. Crying or Very sad

That's why I'm glad that there are such blogs and forums where I can find those people who are on the same "level" as myself, and it's even better if we have different opinions. This forum is a miracle Very Happy

cheers Hurray!
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Sophie on Thu Apr 25, 2013 6:45 pm

Bunnies wrote:I'd be interested to know which came first: the chicken or the egg. Did Coppola make her biopic to cater to the army of fans gushing over Antoinette's fashion or was the army of fans born from Coppola's biopic?

I would ask the question, since when do people believe that the court's financial expenditures came from Antoinette's alleged "fashion addiction"? (I mean, if we forget the mob's reaction to the famine.) I think it comes from Zweig. He, as a freudist, imagined Antoinette as a sexually frustrated woman who found pleasure in material goods. He forgots to mention that it wasn't only her decision, she had to follow the etiquette, and she wasn't the biggest spender of those days. I think living in Versailles was in itself more frustrating than not having sex Laughing But this was an easy explanation why she NEEDED this stuff. In my opinion, it's just a coincidence that she started to buy less and cheaper clothes when she already had her babies. She eventually realized that she must give a good example in a bad financial situation (as Maria Theresa often suggested her during their correspondence), or she simply "grew up" with motherhood.

That's a good skill to have. Personally, I take no risks and ask with as much politeness as I can muster whether their interest is in the historical figure or the film. Crying or Very sad

Some of the internet users who call her "Marie", for example, tend to know only the film. It's worse if someone not only posts in a blog but publishes a book about Antoinette without deeper knowledge. Catharina Habsburg-Lothringen is the best example: she simply cut Zweig, Fraser and Castelot together, wrote a half-novel-half-biography-something, and she could sell it because she has the same name as Antoinette had. I only like this book because it has many original quotes, she should have published the originals as a collection and not trying to write a story if she can't... particularly if I have the feeling that she'd never seen these documents, only second-hand-publishings from other authors...

...but it's a bit off topic now silent
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Re: "Let them eat cake"

Post  Bunnies on Thu Apr 25, 2013 7:14 pm

Sophie wrote:I think it comes from Zweig. He, as a freudist, imagined Antoinette as a sexually frustrated woman who found pleasure in material goods.

I'm feeling a little silly for forgetting about Zweig. Embarassed Ugh, I dislike it when people start shoving Freud's theories into my history. Freud himself said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a woman will do things independently of whether or not she is satisfied in the bedroom.

~Wacky idea, I know.

He forgot to mention that it wasn't only her decision, she had to follow the etiquette, and she wasn't the biggest spender of those days.

No, she wasn't, and this is another red flag you can use to differentiate between the fans of the Coppola film and those with an interest in the historical figure. The former try to explain why she was such a comparative spendthrift and the latter will point out that she wasn't a spendthrift...comparatively. Certainly she was more extravagant than the queens before her but at the same time she was no worse than any of the royal mistresses or even the demure Mesdames. It's a problem with the structure of Versailles as a whole, not one individual.

That said, while Coppola and Zweig try to dismiss the fashions of the queen as frivolous, isn't there a comparatively new perspective that argues that the queen's fashions were power-plays? The Caroline Weber school. I actually...have yet to read The Queen of Fashion so I don't know if Weber relies inherently on the queen's being a piqued spendthrift. Either way, the expenditure's transformation from evidence of incompetence to realpolitik is an impressive one.

In my opinion, it's just a coincidence that she started to buy less and cheaper clothes when she already had her babies. She eventually realized that she must give a good example in a bad financial situation (as Maria Theresa often suggested her during their correspondence), or she simply "grew up" with motherhood.

I always just figured that she grew up, myself.

Some of the internet users who call her "Marie", for example, tend to know only the film. It's worse if someone not only posts in a blog but publishes a book about Antoinette without deeper knowledge. Catharina Habsburg-Lothringen is the best example: she simply cut Zweig, Fraser and Castelot together, wrote a half-novel-half-biography-something, and she could sell it because she has the same name as Antoinette had. I only like this book because it has many original quotes, she should have published the originals as a collection and not trying to write a story if she can't... particularly if I have the feeling that she'd never seen these documents, only second-hand-publishings from other authors...

Never read that book. I have read Zweig, Fraser, and Castelot, and I can't say I adored them so I probably wouldn't enjoy seeing them combined. But now I'm trying to remember. How is Antoinette addressed in Coppola's film? Does anyone ever call her 'Marie'? ...Although I guess there weren't many who would have the privilege to call her by her given name...Huh.
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