Let them eat Brioche

There is yet another version on the table.

It’s not definitive, but interesting enough to offer up as yet another telling, perhaps. I’m going on my memory of a book read 2 years ago–but here it is.

Lady Antonia Fraser addresses this quote extensively in her book, “Marie Antoinette, The Journey” (2002), which may have been published after Cecil’s first column on this (1986?). Fraser claims the original comment that inspired all of this was PROBABLY one made two generations earlier by the Spanish wife of Louis 14th, grandfather of Marie Antoinette’s husband. This woman made some variant of the phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” “They can eat the brioche crust,” in essence.

Someplace I have read–and I think it was in Fraser-- that this referred to little dinner pies being served at court with a brioche crust. Privileged diners were breaking the crust and scooping out the filling, leaving the crust–which was the pastry Cecil describes. Her comment was apparently a flippant way of inviting the poor to clean up the leavings, which, again, I SEEM to remember from the book, was a common perk of servants at Versailles. They got to “clean up” whatever was uneaten.

Certainly “cake” as we know it today was not the issue.

Fraser says hanging this remark around the neck of Marie Antoinette was a calculated attack on her character, or lack thereof, by radical elements prior to the French Revolution.

Whatever was said, Marie Antoinette almost certainly never said it.

LINK TO COLUMN: Did Marie Antoinette really say “let them eat cake”? - The Straight Dope

Louis XIV was the great-great-grandfather of Louis XVI.

As a teenager my niece always delighted in telling me, “to assume makes an ass of U and Me.” I didn’t check this.

Whatever the story, if the original sentence was in French and was “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, then the subsequent story about crust amounts to nothing pertinent. As the original sentence in French doesnt reference crust or brioche’s crust in any way.

As I understand and remember it (after 2 years), the traditional quote, in French, attributed to Marie Antoinette in a contemporary document is “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” which I take to mean: “Let them eat of the brioche” [a pastry of sorts]. If that quote (and the claim that it was made by Marie Antoinette) is malicious and false, however, then the ORIGINAL historical remark that gave rise to it becomes germane in showing the falsity of its attribution to Marie Antoinette–the real issue here.

Marie Antoinette’s biographer, Antonia Fraser, wrote that the quote atributed to Marie Antoinette was false, malicious in intent, and PROBABLY a VARIANT of one made by the Spanish wife of Louis the 14th–as best I can recall it today. This quote, quoted by Fraser, used the term “la croute,” or the “crust.” Hence the interest in crusts in trying to find the exact meaning of the ORIGINAL remark in the context of its times (so we can judge its attitude towards the poor–which is the controversy at the core of the quote attributed to Marie Antoinette).

Fraser studied the life of Marie Antoinette extensively (I think her book won a history award, certainly it attracted high praise) and she addresses this incident extensively. In sum, she claims the quote is malicious, almost certainly false, and probably drawn from an earlier infamous remark by royalty which she quotes, a quote that refers to “la croute…”

It’s true: I conflated these two quotes in my “translation,” trying to get to the information I THINK I remember from Fraser about small pies being cleaned out by diners at the French court, leaving the crust to be eaten by less fortunate scavengers down the social food chain. If the crust on those pies was brioche, either at the time of the original remark or in the time of Marie Antoinette, then that moves the ball forward. I repeat what I said in my first comment:

“It’s not definitive, but interesting enough to offer up as yet another telling, perhaps.”

I still dont see how “They dont have bread? Let them eat cake.” can be retrofit into a “crust debate”. If the “original” story was around Louis XIV and was based on a crust pun or repartee then it has nothing to do with the quote attributed to Marie Antoinette.
There’s no crust in brioche.

Stated thus, your point is taken.

All I can say in reply is what Antonia Fraser said: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” may have been maliciously borrowed from the earlier remark, which went SOMETHING like this (I don’t think it’s exact): “Qu’ils mangent de la croute,” which I take to mean “Let them eat of the crust.” Not everyone is convinced by Fraser’s argument.

The fact that these two remarks have been conflated (and not just by me) in trying to sort out definitively the inspiration for the historical claim that one of them was uttered by Marie Antoinette is part of the problem we face in trying to get to the bottom of this little mystery.

The thing I’m most certain of is that it is highly unlikely Marie Antoinette uttered the phrase attributed to her.

The state of the art on the subject is probably best examined by reading a post by Doper Tammi Terrell in 2005.


After reading that, come back and tell me what you think.

Certainly we agree with the OP. Marie was not the originator of the meme and almost certainly didn’t say it.

I’m digesting Tammi Terrell (figuratively). Very interesting. Yes, I think I will comment further on it, probably on Tuesday, as the Library is closed this Monday.

Samclem, moderator:

I’ve read the Tammi Terrell material you quoted, and a bit more. Yes, it’s an interesting problem in hermeneutics, isn‘t it?

Looks like I’ll have to eat my brioche-at-Versailles comment, stuffed with broccoli. It was based on Antonia Fraser’s details on the life of the table at Versailles in the time of Marie Antoinette. I see now the timeline of Rousseau’s quote is way too early to be influenced by this. So, by intervention of Occam’s Razor, it’s likely Rousseau‘s use of “brioche” refers simply a high-quality pastry enjoyed regularly by aristocracy, not any particular fact of history.

This issue seems to have been kicked around for 25 years, according to the date on Cecil‘s column–I didn‘t realize it was that old–and while there is broad agreement that there is absolutely no evidence Marie Antoinette ever uttered the remark–in fact, circumstances seem to make it impossible–we lack a definitive answer on where the prototype of that remark originated.

I still think, however, that we can try to uncover a convincing vector for it–and Fraser claims she has.

Antonia Fraser‘s book (2002):

Antonia Fraser, historian and biographer of Marie Antoinette, claims in her book, “Marie Antoinette, the Journey” (2002), that Rousseau (writing in 1766, according to Cecil) was embellishing a remark made 100 years earlier by Maria-Therese, Spanish wife of Louis 14. This remark by an earlier French queen is likely the true source and archetype for Rousseau‘s famous reference to such a remark, says Fraser.

Fraser quotes this remark by Maria-Theresa, which I recall as similar to Rousseau’s, except it advises the poor to eat “crust” (not “cake” and not “brioche”). I believe the word used was “croute.” Fraser discusses the meaning of this in the context of Maria Theresa’s time. It may be that Fraser is the source for Cecil’s latest challenger (see posted column) who says “cake” refers to the crisp leftovers in ovens and pans–“crust” essentially-- as scraped out and left for the poor, an argument I think Fraser made in discussing the confusing meaning of French words here.

As Cecil remarks, it’s possible Rousseau was retroactively shoehorning into an anecdote of his own life from 1740 a remark reportedly made originally by “a certain Duchess of Tuscany” around 1760 (Alphonse Karr, 1843, see Appendix). Cecil also says a meme of such a remark was already “in common currency” when Rousseau was writing in the mid-to-late 1760‘s. Still, the term Rousseau used was “une grande princesse,” a glass slipper that would comfortably fit the wife of the French “Sun King.”

Rousseau’s ambiguous attribution could be due to an expectation that his reader would recognize the quote as originating with Maria-Theresa, without his having to commit himself to offending royalty directly. He was well known to the French Royal family (Louis 15 had offered him a lifelong pension for his accomplishments as a composer—which he turned down). He’d written a novel touching on religion that was so controversial it was banned, publicly burned, and forced him into exile to avoid arrest. A year after he wrote the words “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” he slipped illegally back into France under a false name. When, in 1771, he began private readings of “Confessions” the police ordered him to stop. So: When he coyly quoted his “grande princess,” was he making a general swipe at royalty by referencing a popular meme in the abstract, or avoiding further trouble by not naming the source he had in mind?

Among historians, Rousseau has a bad reputation for accuracy and truth. Even his friends and supporters often quarreled with him. As a point of reference: J.L. Talmon, a scholar writing a book on comparative theories of democracy, confessed that he found Rousseau had the most unattractive character of anyone he’d ever studied.

Fraser’s material on Wikipedia:

Whatever your opinion of Wikipedia as a source (I find it useful for quick fact-checks, spellings, and broad outlines), it has a good entry under “Let then eat cake.” That entry quotes Fraser, cites Fraser, and remarks on Fraser’s opinions–the contributor (who writes with BBC English spellings) disagreeing that “Let them eat cake” originated with Maria-Theresa, because Fraser’s source for this, Louis 18, was age 14 when Rousseau wrote the remark, and thus too young to remember well the family discussion on it he claims. Fraser is also cited for a paragraph saying the quote was attributed to Marie Antoinette only after she was dead, by historians sympathetic to the Revolution seeking vindication for the killing of the French royal family.

Likewise, the Wikipedia entry for “Marie Antoinette” has 106 notes, with nearly all citing Fraser and a page number from her 2002 book. Under an entry for “Maria Theresa of Spain,” there is a notation that “Let them eat cake” may be attributable to Maria Theresa, not to Marie Antoinette, Fraser‘s key claim in this debate.

In his original 1986, column, Cecil doesn’t mention Fraser‘s material, because he penned it before Fraser’s book came out. Oddly, none of the mixed material from Tammi Terrell mentions Fraser’s 2002 book either, though you say in your post the Terrell material dates from 2005.

My memory isn’t reliable enough to do much heavy lifting on Fraser. I read her book two years ago, I have no copy of the work, and I can’t get one except via interlibrary loan. Someone else needs to go to this source, read it carefully, make extensive marginal notes, and then write a definitive brief on it as it relates to this controversy. I think Fraser’s material is worth addressing.

In sum:

The historical record of whether Marie Antoinette ever said “let them eat cake” turns out to be a tangle of ambiguous and contradictory claims, most impeached by their own implausibility, modern research, and a credible timeline. Given the weight of evidence against the claim, why are we still discussing it?

Tammi Terrell’s material provides a clue in reporting that a type-number is assigned today by folklorists to any claim of an infamously callous remark by someone of high privilege who is alienated from all human understanding and empathy for ordinary people in dire circumstances, and it’s cross-cultural.

“Let them eat cake” is more than an uncertain historical anecdote. It’s a proof in support of accepted prejudice: the callous indifference of people with power, status, and money towards the rest of humanity. (A collective need to vilify such people is seen in at least two “Marie Antoinette” updates in my lifetime: Imelda Marcos and New York hotelier Leona Helmsley).

It’s unlikely we will ever finally settle on a final source for this remark, no matter what evidence we uncover; it’s instructive, I think, to note how this story took on a destiny larger than any fact in life.
I’ll include as a separate post an “appendix” I made to note and keep track of the basic material on this.



Here are my notes of the material I found in play. Do I need to warn they cannot be considered exhaustive and complete regarding this subject?

In Antonia Fraser ‘s new telling of an archetypal origin (2002):

–Sometime in the late 1660‘s, Maria Theresa, Spanish wife of Louis 14 (great-great-grandfather of Louis 16, Marie Antoinette‘s husband), makes a remark reported roughly as “If the people have no bread, then let them eat crust.” The exact meaning of this in the context of her times is unclear. So says Antonia Fraser in her biography of Marie Antoinette, 2002, citing a book by Louis 18 (brother of Louis 16), who based the claim on his youthful memory of discussion within the French royal family in 1766, when Rousseau wrote the remark.

In the more established version of an archetypal origin:

–In 1760, or earlier, a duchess from Tuscany (a province in Northwest Italy, apparently under the control of a French Holy Roman Emperor at this time) makes a remark on the model: “If the people have no bread, then let them eat cake.” In 1789, at the start of the French Revolution, “radical agitators” attribute this remark to Marie Antoinette to discredit her. So says French writer Alphonse Karr in “Les Guepes,” a book published in 1843. Karr’s is the first historic mention of a connection between the archetypal remark and Marie Antoinette. However, modern research finds no contemporary evidence from the French Revolutionary period itself to support the claim that Marie Antoinette was accused of making this remark at that time. That came later as part of historians sympathetic to the revolution justifying it (Fraser, via Wiki).

It is widely agreed:

–In 1769, social critic Jean Jacques Rousseau finished his book Confessions, (unpublished until 1782) claiming in support of an anecdote of his life from 1740 that “a great princess” when told the peasants had no bread had once replied: “Let them eat brioche” a pastry. In 1740, the time of the anecdote, Marie Antoinette was not yet born. At the time Rousseau wrote the anecdote, 1766 (says Cecil), Marie Antoinette was a German-speaker of 10 growing up in Austria. At the time Rousseau completed Confessions, 1769, Marie Antoinette was a teenager of 14, betrothed to Louis 16, King of France, but not yet married. She was still living with her parents at the Austrian court. Her French was atrocious and she had not yet lived in France nor become French culturally (Fraser). Still, Rousseau’s anecdote is cited today as the primary source of the accusation that Marie Antoinette said, in modern archetypal form: “let them eat cake.”

–Until the Alphonse Karr book in 1843, no claim is made that Marie Antoinette was the “great princess” Rousseau indirectly referenced in his anecdote. There is no record that Marie Antoinette was accused of having made this remark during the French Revolution, between 1789 and her execution in 1793, a time when accusations of all sorts against the royal family were being published in a blizzard of hostile media, nor is it mentioned in any record of her interrogation or trial leading to her execution on the Guillotine. After these events, Fraser says, the charge surfaced among writers supporting the Revolution and became general currency.

–Today, this infamous remark is firmly attributed to Marie Antoinette and uniquely associated with her name. Its archetype is so widespread and established in modern times that folklorists have assigned a type-number to stories in which someone of privileged status makes a callous remark utterly alienated from ordinary human understanding and devoid of all empathy for people in dire circumstances.

I’m not samclem, but I think you’ve nicely summarized what’s been known about this line of research, wei ji. It was also a lot of work. Thanks for that. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with the thrust of your posts here. It’s fun to revisit these issues.

Well, even if I had thought to consult Fraser’s work*, I don’t think it could’ve been any more helpful than Campion-Vincent’s and Shojaei Kawan’s “Marie-Antoinette et son célèbre dire : deux scénographies et deux siècles de désordres, trois niveaux de communication et trois modes accusatoires,” published (in French) in 2002. Notably, their article had appeared in English in 2000 as “Marie Antoinette and Her Famous Saying: Three Levels of Communication, Three Modes of Accusation and Two Troubled Centuries” in Fabula (41[1/2]: 13-37). (I had been working from the English version.)

Theirs is an exhaustive analysis of the historical theme of the clueless or cruel royal/noble/government official who suggests unreasonable eating alternatives for starving people (e.g., shit, cabbage shoots, meat, pastry crusts). And I’m pretty sure it was Campion-Vincent and Shojaei Kawan who first wondered aloud whether we actually have evidence contemporaneous with the Revolution and its aftermath that “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” had been attributed to Marie-Antoinette. They didn’t find any. (I should note that it’s possible to find English attributions to Marie-Antoinette – all involving “cake” or “cakes” – that predate Alphonse Karr’s 1843 association of this saying with Mrs. Louis XVI, but so far these don’t seem to predate the late 1820s. That these so far antedate continental versions tends to suggest that it may have been the British, or French ex-pats living in England, who were most willing to dump this on the late queen.)

It’s of course possible that an attribution to Marie-Antoinette made its way by word of mouth in France before her death and in the days following her execution. It’s troubling, though, that we don’t seem to have (contemporaneous) written evidence of this when we do have written evidence that a form of the saying (“they should eat hay/grass”) was attributed to Foullon by at least late summer, 1789, a couple months after his hanging by the mob.

– Tammi Terrell

  • Do you recall whether you read in Fraser’s book a more extensive analysis of this attribution in Fraser’s book than what’s shown on p. 135? It would be interesting to know what footnote 31 refers to.

I had asked,

So, footnote 31, which is found on p. 135 of Fraser’s book, refers to the following sources.

Mémoires de la Comtesse de Boigne née d’Osmond: du règne de Louis XVI à 1820, ed. Jean-Claude Berchet, 1986. (The specific passage Fraser was working from appears on p. 55 of volume 1 and no doubt pertains to the Comtesse de Boigne’s attribution of the saying to one of her aunts.)

Cronin, Vincent, Louis and Antoinette, 1974 (p. 13).

Chalon, Jean, Chère Marie-Antoinette, 1988 (p. 17).

Younghusband, Lady, Marie-Antoinette: her early youth (1770-1774), 1912 (pp. 21-22).

Fraser mentions the bread/cake/brioche attribution early on, in the Author’s Notes, but her analysis of the genesis of the apocryphal expression is the final full paragraph on p. 135.

– Tammi Terrell

Tammi Terrell–

Thanks for quoting that link to the French researchers on the folkloric archetype of the “let them eat cake” remark. I was going to look for that today, as it interests me to see exactly what they found.

I agree generally that we are dealing with more than a simple historical anecdote here. The loose term is “Urban Myth” (though this is bigger than that), but I think we should go the extra mile to track down every reasonable claim of an archetypal quote before we banish this to the apocryphal.

I’m still convinced there is a flesh-and-blood source Rousseau had in mind when he repeated the anecdote, whatever his motive for ambiguity. I think Fraser is a credible lead.

On the Fraser note, p. 135:

I’m glad I had “la croute” right, but I missed “la croute de la pate” (which my much diminished high school French takes to mean, “the crust of the paste.” I see from translation online [Babylon.com] that it may also mean the crust of the “pastry, dough, or confection.” Well that makes things clear as mud). Let’s try “pate:”

“In French or Belgian cuisine, pâté may be baked in a crust as pie or loaf, in which case it is called pâté en croûte……” (Wiki.)

Which takes us to Encyclopedia Britannic:

That, in turn, takes us full circle back to my first comment on pies served at Versailles and the crust left by diners, which I think has no reference to Rousseau or “brioche,” at the end of the day. I’m chasing my own tail, it appears.

I seem to recall a more extensive discussion of the exact meaning of this quote from Maria-Teresa in Fraser’s book. The explanation offered by N.D.G., of Chicago, Cecil’s latest challenger on this (see posting)–about “cake” meaning the crusty leftovers in ovens and bread pans–seemed very familiar to me. I was sure I’d heard it before, and from Fraser. So, no, the note on p. 135 does NOT seem to include all of the material I remember from Fraser on this. I offer, again, a large “caveat emptor” on my memory at two years distance. The best solution is to go to the source: Fraser‘s book, and see if she discusses it more extensively within the text.

Fraser’s key comment is on p.135:

“But the most convincing proof of Marie Antoinette’s innocence comes from the memoirs of the Comte de Provence, published in 1823. No gallant guardian of his sister-in-law’s reputation, he remarked that eating pate en croute reminded him of his own ancestress, Queen Maria-Teresa. It was, in short, a royal chestnut.” [31]

So, the three latter sources of note #31 that you listed probably contain some reference to the 1823 memoir of the Comte de Provence (later Louis 18).

The Wiki entry disputes Fraser by impeaching Louis 18’s credibility:

“Other objections to the legend of Marie-Antoinette and the cake/brioche centre on arguments concerning the real queen’s personality, internal evidence from members of the French royal family, and the date of the saying’s origin. For example, the Queen’s best-selling English-language biographer, Lady Antonia Fraser, wrote in 2002:

“[Let them eat cake] was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither.”[9]

However this attribution also has little credibility for Fraser cites as justification for the alternative attribution to the wife of Louis XIV the memoirs of Louis XVIII, who was only fourteen when Rousseau’s Confessions were written and whose own memoirs were published much later. He does not mention Marie-Antoinette in his account, but states that the saying was an old legend, and that within the family it was always believed that the saying belonged to the Spanish princess who married Louis XIV in the 1660s. Thus Louis XVIII is as likely as others to have had his recollection affected by the quick spreading and distorting of Rousseau’s original remark.” (Wiki)

That’s the material at issue here, I think, minus the uncertainty in my memory of whether Fraser said more about the meaning of “croute” and “cake” at some point in her narrative.

I think it’s going to be really tough to find precisely what Rousseau may have been working from, especially if we’re leaning toward an anecdote involving Marie-Thérèse. (And harder still to find a true instance in which a clueless or cruel princess uttered such a thing.) Some of the reasons we’ve already touched on, but others should be visited.

A source that’s worth reading is Archer Taylor’s chapter, "And Marie Antoinette Said … " (pp. 249-265), in his Comparative Studies in Folklore: Asia–Europe–America [1]. Taylor was first and foremost a folklorist and collector of proverbs, so he tackles the Marie-Antoinette attribution from a folklorist’s standpoint, rather than from a historian’s. Still, he puts Tale-Type 1446, which he shows is quite old, in historical perspective.

Paradoxically, I’ll start with his conclusion:

Importantly, at least in terms of our discussion, he summarizes a tale told in the 16th century by a German collector of “jests.”

Taylor cites J. Bolte, ed. Martin Montanus Schwankbücher (1557-1566), Bibliothek des litterarischen Vereins in Stuttgart, 217 (Tübingen, 1899), pp. 299-300 (Gartengesellschaft, No. 48) and note, pp. 601-602.

He goes on to say that

Taylor’s source is Epitome historiarum, das ist, christliche and kurze beschreibung vieler denckwürdiger historien and exempel (Leipzig, 1596), p. 301 a, No. 68.

He observes that

Noteworthy, of course, is that both these versions appeared in collections of anecdotes printed in the 16th century.

Elsewhere in his analysis Taylor touches briefly on “an effort to explain ‘cake’ as a faulty translation of ‘caisse de pâté,’ which I have not found in French versions, although it is found in Dutch.” Taylor points to Herbert Southam’s letter in Notes & Queries (12th series, V, 1919, pp. 162-163). There, Southam notes an earlier newspaper discussion in which it was posited that “Marie Antoinette did not know how the poor lived, and that she wanted to know why the peasants did not eat the caisses which contained the French pâtés, and these caisses being generally thrown away. As the caisse was made of flour and water, it was eatable.” Southam suggests that “a bad translation gave the word ‘cake’ for ‘case.’” (of course, a German version involving “Käse” may have also influenced development of an English “cake” version or a French “caisse” variant.) In any event, N.D.G., Cecil’s correspondent, appears to have been – in a fashion – speaking to this issue.

Finally, Taylor mentions a 19th-century Dutch report of a 16th-century Dutch proverb that held that “When bread is lacking, one eats pastry crusts [Bij begrak van brood, eet men korstjes van pasteien].”) If this proverb (whether in Dutch or other languages) dates to the 16th-century, it may have influenced a bit of Bourbon family folklore holding that Marie-Therese had wondered of poor people who had no bread, “Mais, mon Dieu, que ne mangent-ils de la croûte de pâté?”

– Tammi Terrell

[1] Volume 41 of Asian Folklore and Social Life Monographs, eds. L. Tsu-k’uang and W. Eberhard (The Orient Cultural Service: Taipei, Taiwan, 1972). This text first appeared in Revista de etnographia 22: 1-17, 1968.

Tammi Terrell—

Thanks for the information (I need to read it more carefully at home and digest it. Very interesting on a quick read, though).
In the meantime: Looks like We’re not the only ones struggling with how to unpack an established myth.

This is from the comments on Cecil’s column on Australia as home of the world’s deadiest animals.


#13 07-22-2011, 09:52 AM
Guest Join Date: Jan 2003

From the article:
And humans don’t always escape. The fearsome saltwater crocodile reliably eats an Australian every year or two, and likely holds the record for most people killed by animals at one go. During the Battle of Ramree Island in February 1945, British forces chased 1,000 Japanese soldiers into a croc-infested swamp. No more than 20 were taken prisoner; presumably hundreds were eaten alive. OK, that was off the coast of Burma, not Australia. But I say close enough.

From Frank McLynn, The Burma Campaign (2011), p. 13:

“This story … offends every single canon of historical verifiability … as in all urban myths, close investigation involves one in a vicious circle, where one comes back to the same, single, unsubstantiated and unverifiable source … are we seriously to believe that Japanese firepower, which tore such holes in British armour, was helpless against crocodiles? … Most of all, there is a simple zoological problem. If ‘thousands of crocodiles’ were involved in the massacre … how had these ravening monsters survived before and how were they to survive later? … animals are not exempt from the laws of overpopulation.”

Tammi Terrell—

Why do I have the feeling “Samuel Clemmons,“ our riverboat pilot, handed-off to someone professionally trained as a researcher, perhaps multi-lingual in the bargain?

All of this is very interesting and seems increasingly conclusive. There are several things that interest me particularly in this latest material.

–The first is Taylor’s general comment that the ancient archetypal story became folklore because it didn’t get translated into Latin, the official language of scholarship, becoming standardized by that process and preserved as a single established telling. Instead, it spread in native tongues by oral telling, and later in popular works outside the Latin canon. Thus it crops up unpredictably in many forms and places. I’m surprised the general model of this tale may go clear back to Greek and Arab sources (though we cannot be certain due to incomplete scholarship on those sources, says Taylor). This explanation I find convincing.

–It does seem from certain details of similar tales from the 16th Century [1500‘s] that this period is the likely vector for the specific telling we receive today with Marie Antoinette as avatar. I caught the use of “Krosem” (sweet bread) from the 1696 story Taylor quotes, and I agree it’s tempting to suspect a connection to what Taylor calls “the French parallel” of brioche (a pastry roll).

–I see you have uncovered the purported Maria-Theresa quote in full: “Mais, mon Dieu, que ne mangent-ils de la croute de pâté ?” Which my rough French translates, roughly, as: “But, my God, can’t they eat the pâté crust?” I take this to mean the crusts of pâté en croûte [pâté within a crust] left by diners, rather than crusty oven and pan leftovers gathered for the poor at the end of a day of bread baking. Given the revealed background of folkloric material on this, I reluctantly agree it is unlikely we can determine reliably on any internal or contemporary evidence whether this particular remark by Maria-Theresa was the archetypal inspiration for Rousseau and the origin of the claim against Marie Antoinette, or just modestly in line with a larger folkloric model already well established and in cultural play. (And that assumes she actually said it.)

–It gets worse. I see in carefully re-reading p. 135 of Fraser’s book (quoted by you), that Fraser addresses the whole business of an appalling “no bread” remark by a great French princess thus: “It was, in short, a royal chestnut” (meaning a stale old story or joke). This makes it unclear if Fraser thinks Maria-Theresa was, in fact, responsible for an original archetypal remark. Fraser may simply be saying Maria-Theresa was the one accused prior to Marie Antoinette, without necessarily accepting Maria-Theresa as true historical author of a real remark later unfairly transferred to Marie Antoinette. I see from the Wiki entries on this subject that their contributors, too, have assumed Fraser was offering up Maria-Theresa in place of Marie-Antoinette, and not just using the earlier accusation against Maria-Theresa to illustrate that the whole thing was a tired old canard against royalty. Unless Fraser says more in the text, this is a critical difference.

–I’m also interested in the fact of a long-running discussion on how imprecise translation outside of cultural context is thought to be responsible for the confusion over wording of the attributed quote. “Southam notes an earlier newspaper discussion in which it was POSITED [my emphasis] that… a bad translation gave the word ‘cake’ for ‘caisse’ [meaning any containment structure, such as a pie crust].” Yes, the debate on this offers a good deal of “positing.” When there is a large space of ambiguity, something will fill it: The human mind abhors a vacuum. Now that I have contributed my portion…

Maybe it IS time for a Cecil update that includes a high-proof distillation of all the scholarly material you’ve quoted in support of the conclusion that this story is most likely pure myth, originating in ancient folk material. It was applied to the French royal family on little or no factual provocation a century before it settled on a wholly innocent Marie Antoinette by a political and cultural process ignoring an overwhelming weight of contradictory facts.

That‘s me tacking into the wind.

One last closing note or two. Taylor’s analysis features forms of the tale, some (such as the German and Dutch versions) predating the French variants we’ve discussed, but it also deals with more recent versions (ca. early 20th century) collected in Italy, Bombay, the Himalayas, and Ukraine. These forms are quite diverse, but all follow the same general narrative structure. He then focuses on a plethora of proverbs, some quite old, that are clearly related to the narrative form that is Tale-type 1446. For example, he offers a 16th-century Spanish form that becomes the modern Spanish proverb “A falta de pan, buenas son tortas” and discusses its possible antecedents and relatives. It’s the ubiquity and age of the proverb forms and narrative forms that make us sit up a little straighter when thinking about the attribution to Marie-Antoinette and other Western European notables.

You never know what samclem has up his sleeve, but I’m pleased that he remembered that I’m quite fond of this topic (and that I have a pretty good university library at my disposal).

– Tammi Terrell

“…and that I have a pretty good university library at my disposal.”

Suspicions fully confirmed.

In my last, I said Fraser didn’t quite say she thought Maria-Theresa had uttered the remark later attributed to Marie Antoinette. I see now I was mistaken and she said something very close to this:

“It was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither.”

Since the “it” attributed to Maria Theresa was different from the remark attributed to Marie Antoinette (except in kind) this recreates a certain amount of uncertaintly as to EXACTLY what Fraser is saying. That’s the problem with trying to review something like this without having a copy of the text in hand and in front of you. In fact, it would be foolish in the extreme if I were to try this in graduate school. Luckily, this is only an Internet site.

Still, I’m satisfied, absent additional precise, detailed, and convincing, historical information, that we cannot trace an origin for this remark to any one person–which I believe is your point.

Is that the class change bell? I’m done.

Given the remarkable changes in electronic database searching the last ten years or so, and given future advances(searching foreign language texts), I’ll wager we’ll find something. I’ll just have to keep living a clean :wink: life so I’m around to see it.