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Marie Antoinette: Her phrase that led to the French Revolution

Today is November 2, it is the birth date of one of the most controversial Queens of the world – Marie Antoinette, the Queen of Louis XVI of France. I find her mention important because she is so closely associated, in fact, is considered the person who started the French Revolution. Anyone who reads history knows that the “Let them eat cake” comment is attributed to her. 

And the French Revolution is important because for the first time the world came to know of terms like ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ French for ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, which is now the national motto of France. These terms finds its origins in the French Revolution.

The Revolution challenged political, social, and cultural norms in European societies of the day.

Why is Marie Antoinette an important mention in the French Revolution?

Marie Antoinette was Louis XVI’s wife, the reigning king at the time of the French Revolution. She played various roles in both causing and accelerating the revolution, Firstly, she was a very elaborate spender, which did not help in the disastrous economic situation of France in the 1780s, which was in doldrums by getting involved in the American Revolution.

This resulted in resentment from the people, and it also earned her the nickname ‘Madame Deficit’. Secondly, when France went to war with Austria in 1791, Marie Antoinette, who was Austrian, was accused of passing secrets to the enemy, and forming part of the so-called ‘Austrian Committee’.

Thirdly, she was accused of being involved in the failed flight of the royal family to Varennes. Fourthly, after the storming of the Tuileries in August 1792, Marie Antoinette was ultimately tried by the revolutionary tribunal on 14–16 October 1793.

Marie Antoinette was found guilty of the three severe charges – depletion of the national treasury, conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State, and high treason because of her dubious activities in the interest of the enemy. And therefore she was condemned to the guillotine on 16 October 1793.

As Queen of France, Marie Antoinette had no official role and no legitimate political power. Like all queens of her time her main job was to produce a male heir to continue her husband’s royal line, yet, her lifestyle was under the scanner and much was written about it.

But many also say that because she was not French and because she was an Austrian she was targeted.While some say because the King in France was considered next to God at the time he could not be criticised directly and hence he was targeted through his Queen.

But whatever the case, in popular culture her “Let them eat cake!” phrase is infamously attributed to Marie Antoinette, during the French Revolution. The story behind it is that the people of France were starving due to a poor crop harvest, rodents, and a whole number of other factors which led to an enormous bread shortage. When the Queen heard this news, Marie Antoinette is said to have replied; “let them eat cake”. A cake is obviously a luxury item, and is more expensive than bread, and so the anecdote just went to show how out of touch she was with her subjects. And this is considered to be the beginning of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution is a big part of French history, it was a time in France when the people overthrew the monarchy and took control of the government.

The French Revolution lasted between1789to 1799, it began on July 14, 1789 when revolutionaries stormed a prison called the Bastille. It ended in 1799 when Napoleon, a general, overthrew the revolutionary government and established the French Consulate, with him as leader.

The social and political structure of France was completely changed by the revolution. It put an end to the monarchy in France, feudalism, and took away political power from the Catholic Church.

The Revolution heralded in new ideas to Europe which included liberty and freedom for the commoner as well as the abolishment of slavery and the rights of women.

With the rise of Napoleon, the revolution ended but the ideas and reforms did not die. These new ideas continued to influence and helped to shape many of Europe’s and the world’s modern-day governments.

What did the French Revolution teach the world?

The legacy of the French Revolution is found in the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice that still inspire modern democracies. In 1789, the French were not just fighting for their own national independence, they were fighting to establish principles that would lay the basis for freedom for the human race everywhere.

The ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen’ of the French spelled out the rights that included liberty and equality and traced a system of participatory government that would sanction citizens to protect their own rights.

The French revolutionaries recognized that the principles of liberty and equality they had put forth posed fundamental questions about issues such as the status of women and the justification of slavery.

Their steps concerning women’s rights and slavery are just two examples of how the revolutionaries of France experimented with radical new ideas and about the meaning of liberty and equality that are still relevant even today.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Smita Singh is a freelance writer who has over 17 years of experience in the field of print media, publishing, and education. Having worked with newspapers like The Times of India (as a freelancer), National Mail, Dainik Bhaskar, and DB Post, she has also worked with Rupa& Co, a book publishing house, and edited over 30 books in all genres.

She has worked with magazines like Discover India and websites called HolidayIQ and Hikezee (now Go Road Trip). She has also written for Swagat (former in-flight magazine of Air India), Gatirang (magazine of Maruti Udyog), India Perspectives (magazine for Ministry of External Affairs), and Haute Wheels (magazine of Honda).

After turning freelance writer she wrote on art and architecture for India Art n Design. She also worked for Princeton Review as a full-time Admissions Editor and then IDP Education Private Limited as an Application Support Consultant. Smita has her own website called which supports her love for books and reading!

You can reach her at: [email protected]

(Lead collage with images from the net)

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