Most people no longer believe that Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake,” or even the less offensive French version, “Why don’t they try brioche?,” which apparently requires less flour to make (the ingredient being in short supply during the French Revolution). However, they still subscribe to the stereotype that she was a light-headed, sexually promiscuous, spendthrift hedonist who conspired against the French Revolution and so brought down the monarchy.

Marie Antoinette’s reputation was swiftly and ruthlessly tarnished by gossip, which must have originated somewhere—the question in looking back is where the truth ended and fiction began. Contrary to centuries-old rumors, apart from her unprepossessing husband, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette had a single lover, the Swedish count Fersen. After years of restraint, she only started sleeping with Fersen occasionally once sexual relations with the king had stopped. The rumors that she had a lesbian relationship with her favorite, Madame de Polignac, are nonsense.