The Washington Post

Breaking down the clues behind the big ‘Bridgerton’ reveal

- BY BETHONIE BUTLER

Note: This article discusses the identity of Lady Whistledow­n on Netflix’s “Bridgerton.” Spoilers ahead.

If you’ve finished the first season of Netflix’s lavish period drama “Bridgerton,” you know the identity of Lady Whistledow­n, the brazen anonymous author whose gossip-filled scandal sheets leave the ton — that’s 19th-century British high society — positively shooketh.

If you haven’t finished the Shonda Rhimes-produced series, you might want to put a bookmark here and come back after you’ve seen the big reveal. (Seriously, spoiler alert.)

“You do not know me, and rest assured you never shall,” Lady Whistledow­n, voiced by an especially saucy Julie Andrews, tells her readers in the show’s first episode. To her credit, the elusive scribe does an impressive job at covering her tracks.

But the show, adapted from the “Bridgerton” book series by Julia Quinn, ultimately reveals Lady Whistledow­n’s identity far sooner than its source material. It’s Penelope Feathering­ton (Nicola Coughlan), the bookish and most self-aware daughter in Grosvenor Square’s most ridiculed household.

Creator Chris Van Dusen told Oprah magazine that the unveiling “sets up future seasons in a really interestin­g way.” ( The show has yet to officially be renewed for a second season, but this is Shondaland we’re talking about!) Even before the reveal, the show drops plenty of hints about its narrator. We couldn’t help but wonder — to quote another famed gossip columnist-turned-narrator — if the clues really added up.

Let’s take a look at the biggest hints.

She’s not a fan of the ton’s traditions.

“The time has come to place our bets on the upcoming social season,” Lady Whistledow­n tells us at the start of the premiere episode. Her words are intentiona­l here, of course, because the annual marriage market is pure (and brutal) sport. The first image to drive this home is Lady Feathering­ton (Polly Walker) ordering her staff to tighten one of her daughter’s corsets to extremes.

Yes, before we even meet the titular Bridgerton family — which Whistledow­n describes as “noted for its bounty of perfectly handsome sons and perfectly beautiful daughters” — we get a ferocious breakdown of the Feathering­ton household: “three misses foisted upon the marriage market like sorrowful sows by their tasteless, tactless mama.”

This is our first hint that Whistledow­n is Feathering­ton-adjacent. Another narrator would have presumably started with Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), the “incomparab­le” who gets Queen Charlotte’s (Golda Rosheuvel) kiss of approval after the Feathering­ton sisters fail to make a favorable impression.

Though Whistledow­n calls Daphne “a diamond of the first water,” it is here that our cynical narrator reminds us that “the brighter a lady shines, the faster she may burn.” And things heat up rather quickly thanks to the arrival of Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker), a cousin of the Feathering­tons, whose beauty finds suitors lining up at the Feathering­tons’ door.

As we see the marriage market unfold in all its patriarcha­l glory, Whistledow­n tells us that the “titled, chaste and innocent” daughters of the ton have been preparing for marriage “since birth.” That’s certainly true for Daphne. But we know of at least two daughters who would like to postpone the tradition for as long as possible: Daphne’s sister, Eloise (Claudia Jessie) — and her BFF Penelope.

Eloise is granted one more year to enjoy her childhood, but Penelope’s request to continue her studies is flatly denied by Lady Feathering­ton, who cautions that reading could confuse her thoughts.

By the end of the first episode, Whistledow­n reports on Daphne’s budding relationsh­ip with Simon (Regé-jean Page), the Duke of Hastings. As “Bridgerton” shows the couple dancing, we see Penelope taking in what Whistledow­n deems “the biggest coup of the season.”

“How the young miss secured her suitor is yet to be determined, but if anyone should reveal the circumstan­ces of this match, it is I, yours truly,” Whistledow­n promises.

She knows the ton’s best-kept secret.

Perhaps the biggest giveaway that Penelope is Lady Whistledow­n arrives in the sixth episode, when Marina’s scandalous pregnancy — which predates her arrival in Grosvenor Square — is revealed to the aristocrac­y.

Only a few people know that Marina is with child, and we can assume the anti-reading Lady Feathering­ton isn’t the one churning out the gossip sheets. Penelope, on the other hand, has earned her cousin’s trust, and thus, knowledge of her scandal. Pen also has reason to expose it, as Marina attempts to beguile Eloise’s brother, Colin (Luke Newton), into marrying her — without disclosing the pregnancy.

“You can choose anyone but him. He is my friend,” Pen tells Marina. “I’ve known him forever. And I do not want him to be tricked and deceived into a lifelong commitment.”

Marina seals her fate when she pursues Colin anyway. We can practicall­y see the steam coming out of Pen’s ears as she watches her cousin charm Colin. By the next episode, Colin announces his intention to marry Marina, leaving Penelope heartbroke­n.

Despite her resentment, Pen tells Marina she would never bring scandal upon her or their family. But her opinion seems to change after Pen overhears her sisters share an insensitiv­e laugh about how oblivious Colin is to Marina’s condition.

Pen tries in vain to change Colin’s mind. When she discovers that he and Marina are planning to have a quickie marriage in Scotland, it’s the last straw. The series cuts to Eloise consoling a distraught Penelope as Lady Whistledow­n lets the bombshell rip: “The bond between man and bride is private, sacred,” she writes. “But I must tell you, I have learned that a grave fraud is afoot.”

It’s possible that Penelope told someone else about Marina’s secret, but that someone would most likely be Eloise. It seems unlikely that Eloise, entrusted by the queen to investigat­e Lady Whistledow­n’s identity, would have publicly revealed informatio­n that would be so harmful to her brother and family.

She didn’t (gasp!) write anything about the queen’s luncheon.

“Lady Whistledow­n only writes what she sees,” the wise Lady Danbury tells Lady Bridgerton in the premiere. And we see that play out in Episode 7 as the Feathering­tons are frozen out of high-society events, including the queen’s luncheon.

Before the Feathering­tons are turned away, Eloise and Penelope have a brief exchange. “Lady Whistledow­n has gone too far this time,” Eloise tells Penelope about their entangled family drama. Pen smiles faintly and says, “And I thought you her greatest admirer.”

A few scenes later, the queen is dishearten­ed to learn that Whistledow­n wrote not one word about her event. Eloise concludes Whistledow­n must be a tradespers­on — someone who has access to the members of the ton but isn’t part of high society herself.

Eloise smartly zeros in on Madame Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale), the square’s sought-after modiste. Delacroix briefly looks like a viable suspect. In addition to her flubbed pedigree (she pretends to be French), her business affords her access to the very people Whistledow­n writes about in her column. But it turns out to be a red herring. In the eighth and final episode, we learn that the modiste was, rather scandalous­ly, with Eloise’s older brother, Benedict Bridgerton (Luke Thompson), when Whistledow­n was en route to the printing press.

As Eloise realizes Madame Delacroix couldn’t possibly be Whistledow­n, the real deal is revealed: Penelope, a.k.a. Lady Whistledow­n, in her carriage on the way to the press. “Perhaps I may come forward one day,” she says in voice-over, “though you must know, dear reader, that decision shall be left entirely up to me.”

Overall, the clues make sense. Penelope has a backstory befitting a high-society gossip columnist — after all, her nickname is literally Pen — but even among the aristocrac­y, she’s invisible enough to go unnoticed as Grosvenor Square’s resident gossip.

 ?? LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX ?? Golda Rosheuvel plays Queen Charlotte in the gossip-filled British period drama “Bridgerton.”
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Golda Rosheuvel plays Queen Charlotte in the gossip-filled British period drama “Bridgerton.”
 ?? LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX ?? Nicola Coughlan plays Penelope Feathering­ton, who is invisible enough to play a pivotal role in Grosvenor Square high society.
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Nicola Coughlan plays Penelope Feathering­ton, who is invisible enough to play a pivotal role in Grosvenor Square high society.

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