Marie Antoinette: Expert discusses phrase ‘let them eat cake’
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Situated just outside Paris, Versailles is the opulent former French royal residence, and a national landmark. From the time of its original construction for Louis XIII in the Seventeenth Century, the palace was at the centre of a fascinating period in French history. The building will be placed under the spotlight in a new historical documentary series on Channel 5 tonight.
In ‘Secrets of the Royal Palaces’, historian Kate Williams explores the pasts of some of the world’s most fascinating buildings.
Episode three of the programme takes a look around Versailles, the former home of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.
The couple were the last King and Queen of France before they were overthrown and executed by guillotine during the French Revolution.
Although Marie Antoinette was eventually held up as a symbol of France’s out-of-touch monarchy, she initially enjoyed popularity among her subjects during the early years of her husband’s reign.
The couple married on May 16, 1770, in the royal chapel at Versailles, aged just 14 and 15 respectively.
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However, despite her luxurious surroundings, Marie Antoinette complained of her boredom at Versailles.
The Austrian-born Queen told of her homesickness in heartrending letters to her mother, Maria Theresa.
In one she wrote: “Madame, my very dear mother, I have not received one of your dear letters without having the tears come to my eyes.”
She also complained of having to perform her daily routine, including putting on makeup, in front of onlooking palace courtiers.
In the year of her marriage to Louis, she said: “I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world.”
In another insight into Marie Antoinette’s world, she told her adviser, Comte Florimond Mercy d’Argenteau in 1777: “I am terrified of being bored.”
Marie Antoinette’s letters were quoted by Paris-based historical author Richard Covington in an article for Smithsonian magazine in 2006.
The expert explained how the young Queen would try to escape her malaise through “masked balls, opera, theatre and gambling”.
Marie Antoinette was known for her lavish lifestyle and is often wrongly said to have declared “Let them eat cake” in response to the plight of France’s starving public.
However, her love of excess was not shared by her husband Louis, according to Mr Covington.
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The author quoted a letter the Queen wrote to a friend in April 1775 in which she expressed different interests to Louis.
She wrote: “My tastes are not the same as the King’s, who is only interested in hunting and his metal-working.”
Mr Covington claimed the young Queen cut a more joyous figure when compared with her sober husband.
He wrote: “Where Louis was indecisive, thrifty and over-serious, Marie Antoinette was quick to make up her mind, extravagant and light-hearted.
“He loved being alone, tinkering with locks; she craved the social whirl.
“When Louis went to bed, around 11 pm, Marie Antoinette was just revving up for a night of festivities.
“By the time she awoke, around 11 am, Louis had been up for hours.”
‘Secrets of the Royal Palaces’ airs on Channel 5 tonight from 8:30pm-9:30pm.
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