Let them eat cake


If we think social media has too much influence on public opinion these days, we might reflect on the unfortunate Marie Antoinette’s experience in the famous “Diamond Necklace” scandal. There might have been lots of things for the common people to hold against Marie Antoinette, but this shouldn’t have been one of them. It was all down to a conwoman known as Jeanne de la Motte.

A necklace commissioned by Louis XV for his mistress at a cost of around $14 million in today’s money was looking for a buyer after Louis’ death. Marie Antoinette wasn’t interested in buying it, but Jeanne de la Motte was offered a commission by the jewellers if she could get it sold. She convinced an out-of-favour courtier, Cardinal de Rohan, to buy it, supposedly on behalf of the Queen. To do this she hired a prostitute who looked like Marie Antoinette to meet with the Cardinal in the palace gardens by moonlight, and faked letters from Marie Antoinette asking him to buy the necklace secretly. He did, on credit, but Jeanne’s husband took the necklace to London and broke it up to sell the diamonds. Meanwhile, de Rohan was expecting thanks and repayment from the Queen. When he didn’t get either the whole thing blew up.

In the subsequent trial of de Rohan, de la Motte and the prostitute Nicole Leguay, public opinion was soundly on the side of the defendants. Cardinal Rohan had been duped because he was too innocent and eager, the prostitute was an innocent girl sucked into a sordid world, even Jeanne was painted as a sympathetic noblewoman down on her luck who had been driven by poverty to make bad choices. Everyone, it seems, was given a pass except the Queen, who somehow came off as a vindictive harpy who had purposely set the whole thing in motion to destroy Rohan…

 Jeanne de la Motte was found guilty and there was no finding against the queen. But to the public she was a rotten manipulative shrew, who was all too eager to destroy anyone who stood between her and some shiny things.

 The Revolution was only four years away. Who needs Facebook?

The quotes are from Mike Duncan’s podcast Revolutions, which is highly recommended.


 Image: By Jebulon – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11383484


24 thoughts on “Let them eat cake

    1. I have heard the version that she was baffled by the idea that the poor had no bread and thought, quite logically, that they should eat something else. But it has a great ring to it, doesn’t it? In the spirit of gossip about those we love to hate, who cares if it’s true?

      1. Apparently, that phrase has been around the block a few times (although only in Marie’s case did it lead to the guillotine block). A Spanish princess married to a French king 100 years earlier is quoted as saying something similar (https://www.history.com/news/did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake). Also a German noblewoman in the 16th century thought that the poor should eat Krosem (a sweetened bread, https://www.britannica.com/story/did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake). The phrase was also attributed to two of Louis XV’s daughters. And a Chinese emperor in the third century CE is supposed to have said that if the peasants didn’t have rice, they should eat ground meat. So, you are right, the phrase has such a great ring that people have been using it for a long time. Also, apparently Marie was indeed exceptionally extravagant, even if she did care about poor people and according to Lady Antonia Fraser, would never have said, “Let them eat cake.”

        1. Never let truth get in the way of a good story about your political enemies.
          Speaking of which, I see that your baby emperor is complaining that the rioters in France haven’t mentioned the disgraceful treatment the US is getting over trade.

          1. I knew that he was mad at Macron, but I thought that was over the whole “nationalist” thing. We are being treated unfairly over so many, many things that it’s hard to keep track of them all. I do see that Victoria brought in the Labor Party, right? So things will be better there? We are looking for all of the glimmers of brightness that we can find in the world at large.

            1. Yes, a big swing to Labor even in traditional blue-ribbon seats, and apparently Liberal voters complaining to their reps about the Federal govt’s lack of vision on things like climate change and energy policy. The new PM Scott Morrison is what we call a boofhead.

  1. Fascinating stuff. Have you seen the Sofia Coppola film of Marie Antoinette? I think I avoided it at the time due to mixed reviews, but now I’m wondering if it might be worth a look.

  2. I’ve ‘The Queen’s Necklace’ by the Hungarian writer Antal Szerb still to read all about this affair, though I gather he is only one of several authors to have published an account. Thanks for this reminder! Maybe I’ll get around to it in 2019—after all, if Brexit unfortunately takes place, I’ll have neither cake nor bread to eat and the air in UK towns (“promise cramm’d” in Hamlet’s words) will be too polluted to breathe, so I’ll have my library of books to consume as fall-back.

      1. An empire in which he’ll be fiddling while the UK burns. And by ‘burns’ I mean metaphorically. And by ‘fiddling’ I don’t mean he’ll be be profiting from it all financially in any way, oh no, that’d be libel, ‘fake news’…

            1. It’s not a term of endearment (though my husband does call our cat a boofhead)- it means an amiable enough person but not very bright. I don’t know whether Morrison is amiable, but he tries very hard to give that impression – but he’s definitely not got the brains to be a successful Prime Minister.

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