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More of history's lies. Marie Antoinette. Let them eat cake. Queen Victoria, The Irish Famine. The American Revolution.

Updated on February 14, 2016


History is full of lies.

Lie no 1. Marie Antoinette and the cake.

History's lies. No 2. The American colonists and "unjust taxation".

Lie no 3. Queen Victoria and the £5 contribution to Irish Famine Relief.

Marie Antoinette. The martyr Queen of France.
Marie Antoinette. The martyr Queen of France.
George Washington. Traitor posing as a liberator.
George Washington. Traitor posing as a liberator.
Queen Victoria did help the irish.
Queen Victoria did help the irish.

History is full of lies.

One of the ironies of history is that the accounts that enter the popular memory are often not the true ones. This is mainly because history is written by the victor, and in the cause of self-justification the truth is frequently the first casualty. Also, when people are engaged in those great titanic struggles that have characterised human history, the usefulness of the propaganda has often outweighed the value of honesty.

In this article I want to put the record straight in three cases where the real record has been distorted in order to throw a gloss on the dubious actions of some of history's victors.

Lie no 1. Marie Antoinette and the cake

It has long been the belief that the late Queen of France Marie Antoinette was a very frivolous and extravagant woman who cared little for the sufferings of the starving French peasants, and that this indifference contributed greatly to provoking the French revolution that eventually lead to the execution of the said queen and her husband King Louis XVI. The saying that is most frequently quoted against her, and the one that can even now has republicans spitting out their cornflakes in " righteous indignation “is that when told that the peasants were starving because they had no bread she replied "Let them eat cake". I have to tell you now that such was never said by the much maligned murdered queen. The statement was first heard in the autobiography of Jean- Jacques Rousseau published in 1769 when Marie Antoinette was 13 and still living in Austria. What he said was,

"Finally I recalled the last resort of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche.”

(Brioche is a type of cake in France).

At the time the sentence was attributed to several French princesses including Marie Therese, wife of Louis XIV, and the daughters of Louis XV Mesdames Sophie and Victoire. The most likely explanation is that it was a fiction, invented by Rousseau himself who liked to attack those in authority. It helped to sell his books. The people of France in the eighteenth century might have had many problems, but the chronic shortage of bread was not one of them. There was a shortage in 1775 around the time of the coronation of the king. This lead to some rioting in some places. There was a further shortage in 1789, just prior to the outbreak of the revolution, but generally the French peasants were among the best fed in Europe at the time. The Queen herself gave generously to charity, when she was aware of the need, and she was very aware that her position meant that she needed to work hard for the betterment of her people. This is shown in this excerpt from a letter which she sent to her family in Austria.

"It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness. The King seems to understand this truth."

It was the misfortune of Marie Antoinette that her reputation fell afoul of those people who would stoop to any level of falsehood in order to further their own agendas.

History's lies. No 2. The American colonists and "unjust taxation".

A lot has been written about the rebellion of the British North American colonies in the latter part of the eighteenth century. One of the prevalent beliefs is the notion that the rebellion was caused because the colonists were unjustly taxed by an oppressive British government that denied them the right to vote on whether they should be taxed or not. I have to say now that this is one of the greatest examples of how propaganda and the lies of the victors can distort the true record of history.

The real reason why the tax was required from the colonists was, first of all, to protect them from the effects of attacks on them from the Native Americans, who were resisting the depredations of colonial "land grabbers" in areas west of the Appalachian Mountains. One of those who hoped to make money from land speculation in illegally seized "Indian land" was George Washington.

The second reason for the raising of tax was to protect the colonies from invasion by the French during The Seven Years War. This war, incidentally, was started when a troop of British soldiers, under the command of, would you believe it, George Washington, attacked and massacred a French platoon. The ensuing war almost bankrupted the British state, and it was in order to gain back some of that money that it was decided to ask the colonists to, in future, contribute to the costs of their own defence.

The rioters that invaded the ships in Boston Harbour during the so called "Boston Tea Party" were smugglers who wanted to continue making illegal fortunes from selling smuggled tea.

They were not freedom fighters.

Taxes were actually greatly increased after the success of the rebellion.

An indication of what life was like in the new USA is an armed uprising took place in Massachusetts from 1786 to 1787 against crippling taxation which had caused most to fall deeply in debt and then as a consequence faced them with either imprisonment or their property confiscated for the state to sell. This popular rebellion led by Daniel Shays, was crushed when nearly all of it's leaders were caught and sentenced to death, Daniel Shays died in dire poverty.

Generations of Americans have been fed a skewed version of how their state came into being, and so pervasive is American cultural imperialism that the rest of the world believes it as well.

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Lie no 3. Queen Victoria and the £5 contribution to Irish Famine Relief.

The history of Ireland, especially its relations with its larger neighbour England, has been the cause of much bitterness, and the spilling of much blood for the greater part of one thousand years. Indeed the issues that have divided these two countries are not resolved fully even now, and they still result in the spilling of innocent blood in the twenty first century.

Of all the tragedies that befell the island of Ireland in its long history, the one that has had the greatest impact on the psyche of the nation was The Great Potato Famine of 1845/1849 The direct result of this catastrophe was that the population of Ireland was reduced from eight million to four million in the space of thirty years. About one million died from starvation, and the rest emigrated.

I am not writing here to explain the causes of the famine, which was mainly down to an over reliance on potatoes in the diet of the Irish poor. What I do want to address is the belief held by many at the time, and still used by those whose interests lie in continuing hostility between the irish and the English that Queen Victoria was so indifferent to the plight of her Irish subjects that, when asked to contribute to a fund for their relief, she gave only five pounds. She is further said on the same day to have given the same sum to "The Home for Dogs".

In actual fact The Queen headed the subscription list with a contribution of £2000 pounds from her personal money, equal to £61000 today.

Revolutionary propagandists seized on the myth, and it has been used to inflame bitterness,( and raise money for terrorists), ever since.

I am not trying to reverse the results of history here. For better or worse the world has moved on. All that I am doing is trying to put the record straight in some of the myths that are behind the understandings that many of us falsely hold today. I am not expecting to have much success.

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