WAIT, WAIT, DON’T GUILLOTINE ME! Question 2
Test – and refresh – your knowledge of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror with this simple multiple-choice quiz!
2. "Let them eat cake" was a phrase mistakenly attributed to which French Revolution figure?
A. Napoleon Bonaparte
B. Marie Antoinette
C. Maximilien Robespierre
D. Louis XVI
Answer: B. Marie Antoinette
In fact, the French word was not “gâteau” (cake) but “brioche” (a breadlike pastry), and the queen never made the remark. Versions of it, attributed to several earlier French rulers, circulated as early as the 1600s and appeared most famously in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Confessions,” which was written before Marie-Antoinette even married the future Louis XVI. It expressed the widespread popular conviction that the luxury-besotted royals neither understood nor cared for the famine-prone poor.
Marie-Antoinette, while no paragon of humility or simplicity, had genuine charitable instincts toward poor people. But after 1789, her opposition to the French Revolution made her one of the most hated figures in the country. Misogynistic journalists depicted her as a murderous, hedonistic, sexually insatiable lesbian plotting to betray the country to France’s enemy, her native Austria (their pamphlets had titles like “The Royal Dildo” and “National Bordello Under the Auspices of the Queen”). The purported callous remark about the poor was just icing, so to speak, on the brioche.
In the fall of 1793, less than a year after the execution of her husband, King Louis XVI, the revolutionary government put Marie-Antoinette on trial for crimes that included the alleged sexual abuse of her son. Found guilty, she died on the guillotine.
Source: “5 Myths about the French Revolution,” by Daniel A. Bell, The Washington Post, July 9, 2015.
March 8 – 24, 2019