The Real Story Behind Lady Whistledown's Identity on Bridgerton

McKenzie Jean-Philippe
·7 min read
The Real Story Behind Lady Whistledown's Identity on Bridgerton

From Oprah Magazine

As a Bridgerton fan, you're either here because you made it to the end of season 1's finale "After the Rain" and have major questions, or you're a little impatient and need to know the show's biggest secret—aka the identity of Lady Whistledown—ASAP.

Well dear reader, regardless of your reasoning, we're about to tell you right now. So, if you're not looking for a spoiler, do not continue this article. Because Bridgerton's Lady Whistledown is none other than...

Penelope Featherington. Yes, the quick witted and outspoken anonymous gossip columnist (played by Nicola Coughlan and voiced by Julie Andrews) is the shy and unassuming best friend of Eloise, and also secretly desperately in love with Colin Bridgerton. It's this unrequited infatuation that gave us the biggest hint to her identity earlier in the season—but we'll get to that in a moment.

Penelope's secret came out to viewers in the last minutes of the finale when Eloise—who had been desperate to uncover Lady Whistledown—thwarts Queen Charlotte's attempt to trap and unveil her as she makes a trip to the printers. At that moment, the fifth oldest Bridgerton unknowingly saves her bff. The dramatic reveal comes a bit sooner than in the books, where readers had to wait for two years until the fourth novel, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, to learn of Penelope's alter ego.

Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

"It felt right for the season to end where we end," showrunner Chris Van Dusen tells OprahMag.com. "I think it sets up future seasons in a really interesting way that I'm excited about."

So how on earth did we miss any foreshadowing for what now seems obvious? And how did Penelope become the most trusted gossip of the ton? We answer these questions below.

The biggest hint about Lady Whistledown's identity is in episode 6.

Once you learn Penelope is Lady Whistledown, you slowly begin to realize that the writer always seemed to know the same bits of information that the youngest Featherington was privy to. But the most obvious? In episode 6's "Swish," just before Colin and Marina elope, Lady Whistledown reveals to all that Marina is hiding a pregnancy and has been since arriving in London at the beginning of the season.

Photo credit: NICK BRIGGS/NETFLIX
Photo credit: NICK BRIGGS/NETFLIX

The only people in the city privy to this information are her cousins, the Featheringtons. She's also closest to Penelope, who was aware of Marina's plan to have Colin fall in love with her and have a quick wedding so the baby could appear to be his, instead of conceived out of wedlock to another man. This clearly disappointed Penelope, who had loved Colin from afar for years. And as she told Marina, she did not "condone" her deceit. The only way to save him from being trapped into marriage, while also appearing to maintain loyalty to her family's secret? Use Whistledown. And the night before her most scandalous edition hit the hands of the ton, Penelope arrived sobbing in the Bridgerton gardens to be comforted by Eloise.

The column read in part, "All is fair in love and war, but some battles leave no victor. Only a trail of broken hearts that makes us wonder if the price we pay is ever worth the fight. The ones we love have the power to inflict the greatest scars... Desperate times may cause for desperate measures, but I would wager many will think her actions beyond the pale."

Colin discovers and reveals Lady Whistledown in the books.

It's important to remember that the only people who know Whistledown's identity are us, the audience. No one in the Bridgerton world is aware, yet. In the event of a season 2, it'll be interesting to see how Van Dusen continues the storyline since he's made a few changes in his adaptation.

But in the fourth book, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, Lady Whistledown isn't revealed to the ton until 11 years after Penelope began the papers at age 17. Interest in unmasking the columnist spikes when Lady Danbury offers £1,000 to the person who can discover her. Amidst the hooplah Lady Whistledown publishes her last column, to British society's great disappointment.

Colin, whose relationship with Penelope grows closer by the day (they get married in the books, FYI) is convinced Eloise is the culprit until he secretly follows Penelope to a church deep in London. He then watches her drop off a package in the back of a pew. Against Penelope's wishes, he reads its contents, where he finds Lady Whistledown's actual last column, which served to shut down her arch nemesis Cressida Twombley's public claim that she was Whistledown. He's both furious, jealous, and impressed with Penelope's secret, and agrees to keep it to himself.

Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Fast forward a few chapters, and Cressida Twombley has figured out what Penelope's hiding. And in true evil villain fashion, she blackmails her for £10,000. A distraught Penelope tells her now-husband Colin the terrible development, and he comes up with a master plan to save her: tell the truth.

At a ball thrown by Daphne, he tells all in attendance during a toast:

"You might say that my wife has two maiden names. Of course you all knew her as Penelope Featherington, as did I. But what you didn't know, and what I wasn't clever enough to figure out until she told me herself is that she is also the brilliant, the witty, the breathtakingly magnificent—Oh, you all know who I'm talking about. I give you my wife! Lady Whistledown!" - Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Cue the applause. The two end up living happily ever after, with Colin publishing a series of his personal travel journals and Penelope retiring her pseudonym to write a novel based on her life: The Wallflower. They have four children: Agatha, Thomas, Jane, and George.

So, why did she do it?

Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
Photo credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

This may be the biggest query of them all, as we wonder how and why a 17-year-old Penelope Featherington decided to become the source of all the hottest tea in Regency London.

Again, we look to the books. When answering this very question for Colin, Penelope said the column was accidentally started when her father's lawyer discovered random musings she'd written down about a miserable first season as a debutante.

"I wasn't terribly happy, and so I wrote a rather scathing report of the party I'd been to the night before. And then I did another, and another. I didn't sign them Lady Whistledown; I just wrote them for fun and hid them in my desk. Except one day, I forgot to hide them." - Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Impressed, it was the lawyer's idea to publish her words as a column, and he made all the necessary arrangements with a printer to have them distributed. The money she earns is deposited in a secret account in her name. After the first four years, she gave all the funds she earned to her mother, disguised as money left behind by a great aunt. Penelope also explained in the books that she gives money to charities. At the time of Cressida's blackmail attempt, Penelope knew she had at least £8,426 to her name, which is around £911,257.74 today ($1,230,015.70), according to a nifty inflation calculator. So basically, Penelope was a super rich independent working woman in the early 19th century—and nobody knew.

And now, for one final question: Will all of this come to light on the show? Dear reader, we'll just have to wait and see.

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