Everything to Know About Lady Whistledown's Identity Heading into 'Bridgerton' Season 3

She's a master of slipping through high-society functions unnoticed.

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 201 of Bridgerton
(Image credit: Liam Daniel)

Warning: Spoilers for Bridgerton up to season 3, part 1. Ever since Bridgerton debuted on Christmas 2020, the secret of Lady Whistledown's true identity has been the best storyline of the series. Of course, the mystery was solved for viewers relatively quickly. After the first season saw Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) and Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) collecting clues and masterminded schemes to unmask London's most notorious gossip columnist, season 1's ending included the bombshell reveal that Whistledown was none other than Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan).

Her identity was confirmed as Julie Andrews, who voices Whistledown's readings of The Society Papers, narrates the final gossip column of the season while a hooded writer traveled by carriage across the city. "Perhaps I will come forward one day, though, you must know, dear reader, that decision shall be left entirely up to me. Yours truly, Lady Whistledown," she says while lowering her hood to reveal Penelope, wearing a sly grin.

Though undeniably surprising, Whistledown's identity made perfect sense based on all the clues dropped throughout season 1. Then in season 2, Bridgerton followed Penelope in action, as she adjusted the printing and distribution process for the column in response to Eloise's continued snooping. In doing so, Penelope made difficult decisions to keep her secret and protect Eloise from the queen's antagonistic efforts to root out and ruin Whistledown. Unfortunately, Pen and El's lifelong friendship came to a head when the latter finally discovered the former's secret in the season 2 finale, marking an ultimate turning point in their bond.

Now that season 3, part 1 arrived in May 2024, Penelope must face a new challenge in her writing career: balancing her illicit writings as Whistledown with her attempts to renew her efforts in the marriage mart and find a husband. Meanwhile, Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) sees Penelope in a new light—and simultaneously despises everything to do with Whistledown, since his family is a constant subject of the Ton's gossip mill.

Ahead of Bridgerton season 3, part 2's release, we're diving into Penelope's tenure as Whistledown, and what could happen next according to the Bridgerton books by Julia Quinn.

nicola coughlan as penelope featherington in bridgerton season 1

Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan), Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker), and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) in Bridgerton season 1.

(Image credit: Liam Daniel)

What were the clues for Whistledown's identity in season 1?

The Bridgerton sleuths' assumptions in season 1 that Whistledown was a maid or tradesperson certainly made sense since working-class members of Georgian society were not only regularly in the company of higher-class families but typically overlooked in those settings. The flaw here, though, is that Whistledown's reports were often published mere hours after the latest dinner party or ball had concluded, and while the Regency rumor mills moved quickly, they didn't move that quickly. Therefore, Lady Whistledown had to be someone who was actually in attendance at those events. Enter: Penelope.

While attending those events, Penelope was rarely the life of the party, due to a sense of self-consciousness imposed by her family and a preference to keep her eyes peeled for drama from the sidelines. In fact, according to Coughlan, if you go back and keep an eye out for Penelope in those social scenes, you'll often see her lurking in the background of the show's biggest moments.

"I would think, 'What's the Whistledown column? Is something happening?' And I would say to the directors, whose main focus would be on the duke and Daphne, because that's what the scene was about, 'Would you mind if I sort of planted myself and just was here just to witness this?'" Coughlan previously told Harper's Bazaar in a 2020 interview of her approach to playing the gossip girl in disguise. "I don't need to be there with binoculars or with a pen writing things down, but I do need to take all that in. I couldn't be overt, but I think it will be fun for people to watch season one back and spot Penelope, like Where's Waldo, around the ballroom."

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, standing in front of candles and a lit fireplace, in episode 201 of Bridgerton

Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) in Bridgerton season 2.

(Image credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

Some of Whistledown's most scathing reports concerned Penelope's own family: She downplayed her sisters' prospects on the marriage market and, even more shockingly, revealed her cousin and friend Marina Thompson's (Ruby Barker) out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And while it might seem unthinkable that Penelope would jeopardize her own family's social standing, it makes sense when you consider how they treated her. Her mother (Polly Walker) and sisters (Bessie Carter, Harriet Cain) regularly dismissed her marriage prospects, teased her for being "two stone heavier" than them, and, in general, left her feeling unimportant and unseen in her own home.

"I think the way that Penelope has grown up, she's used to keeping secrets, because she doesn't really have anyone in her family to confide in," Coughlan told Bazaar. Her sisters are this double act, that they just get on really well. Her mom and dad don't really know she's alive. I think it's her coping mechanism, it's not necessarily a healthy thing, but I think it's interesting because she's so young, too."

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 201 of Bridgerton

Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) in the Bridgerton season 2 premiere.

(Image credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

How does Lady Whistledown print the column?

After season 1's big reveal, the Bridgerton season 2 premiere wasted no time showing how Penelope pulled off the printing and distribution of Whistledown's pamphlets while keeping her identity secret. While her mother and sisters are preoccupied at a ball, Penelope sneaks away to a print shop in the unfashionable side of town, with the help of a driver that stores a disguise and extra writing materials in the carriage. Pen dresses up as a maid and pretends to be Whistledown's maid (rather than the scribe herself) while negotiating with the printer, and the Irish actress gets to bust out her real accent for a fun twist. In the disguise scenes, we see how skilled Penelope is at business; she drives a hard bargain, including getting her delivery boys a raise, and she takes the initiative to find a new type letter when Eloise finds a clue to her identity in the pamphlets. (More on El later.)

We also learn that Penelope hides her Whistledown earnings and prior editions in the floorboards of her room. On one trip to the printers, Pen takes home 10 pounds; per this conversion tool, 10 pounds in 1830 comes to around $1,445! The Featheringtons may have dealt with money problems in season 2, but Pen would've been fine.

Kathryn Drysdale as Genevieve, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 206 of Bridgerton.

Genevieve Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale) and Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) in Bridgerton season 2.

(Image credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

Who knows Whistledown's identity by 'Bridgerton' season 3?

A secret as big as Lady Whistledown's identity couldn't stay hidden for long, and it only takes two episodes of season 2 for someone from the Ton to happen upon Penelope while she's dressed in her maid's disguise. The culprit was the modiste, Madame Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale), who herself was a suspect for Whistledown in season 1 (perhaps acerbated by her faking a French accent). After the run-in, Delacroix is content to forget she saw Penelope, but Pen figures out how the two women can help each other. You see, a new modiste in town has been siphoning Delacroix's clients, and Penelope uses a Whistledown issue to affirm that Delacroix is Mayfair's most stylish modiste (while getting a dig in at Cressida Cowper in the process). In exchange for favorable reviews, Pen enlists Delacroix, who travels throughout London more freely, to deliver Whistledown drafts to the printer in her stead.

The second person to learn Whistledown's identity isn't as fortuitous. After two seasons of snooping, Eloise finally recognizes one of Penelope's sayings in a Whistledown issue, and a devastating fight ensues. Unfortunately, her discovery comes a few episodes after Penelope tarnished Eloise's reputation via a Whistledown issue. Midway through season 2, Queen Charlotte suspects that Eloise herself was Whistledown, and turned her ire on the Bridgerton girl. In a desperate bid to save her friend, Penelope exposes Eloise’s association with "political radicals" and print apprentice Theo Sharpe (Calam Lynch), damaging both El and the Bridgertons to convince the queen that Eloise wouldn't write such scandalous material about herself. Eloise couldn't understand Pen's intention in the heat of the moment, and the fight essentially ended the pair's friendship.

“Eloise and Penelope said such terrible things to one another, and only someone you love can really hurt you in that way,” Coughlan explained to TVLine following season 2. “Penelope really was trying to save Eloise when she wrote those things, but her lying was the worst part. Friendship breakups are so earth-shatteringly horrible, it hurts your soul. We definitely felt the pain of it while we were shooting it.”

Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, in 'Bridgerton' season 3

Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) in Bridgerton season 3.

(Image credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

Why does Colin Bridgerton hate Lady Whistledown?

Colin's beef with Whistledown goes back to season 1. Though the column spoke favorably of the Bridgertons initially—she even named Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) the jewel of the social season, demonstrating Pen's love and respect for her best friend's family—Penelope eventually revealed Marina's (Ruby Barker) secret pregnancy and the latter's plan to entrap Colin in marriage. Pen's brutal action was partly sparked by love; revealing Marina's pregnancy protected Colin and his family from potential scandal. However, it was also an act of jealousy that stemmed from Penelope's secret love for the third Bridgerton son.

Following season 1, Coughlan mused to Variety that it was likely a childish miscalculation on the part of Penelope, after becoming so accustomed to being overlooked at home and in society. "I know people are really angry at Penelope, but she's 17-years-old. And she's someone who's so ignored in her life. Whistledown is her way to have some power in the world, but she hasn't realized in season one how much power she actually has," Coughlan said.

Still, between ruining Marina and almost ruining Eloise, Colin has no fond feelings for the Ton's top gossip. That means he and Penelope are in for a very awkward conversation, should the cliffhanger at the end of season 3 part 1 lead to an engagement.

Does Colin find out Penelope is Whistledown?

Warning: Spoilers for the Bridgerton books ahead. Though Penelope's secret is still safe from Colin by the end of season 3 part 1, it's possible that her Whistledown ruse won't last until the end of season 3. In the book that's the basis of the season, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, both readers and the residents of the Ton find out Whistledown's true identity. (The Netflix adaptation made the smart decision to share that detail with the audience in season 1.)

Much of the novel concerns the Ton's efforts, led by Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) rather than the show-original character Queen Charlotte, to unmask the columnist. Part way through, Colin spies Penelope heading deep into London alone and follows her to watch her drop off a letter. This is how he learns that she's Whistledown, and they fight over her secret on the carriage ride back into London, during which a legendary makeout and proposal scene unfolds.

Showrunner Jess Brownell has confirmed to Tudum that "Colin is going to find out Penelope is Lady Whistledown"—but there is a question of how. The most recent episodes included the iconic make-out scene already, but there's still a chance the series could find Colin discovering Penelope in the act.

In a June 2023 interview with PEOPLE, Coughlan teased season 3 by saying, "It's really special and it stays very true to the books."

With that in mind, there is a chance Penelope could be unmasked in another way, but Colin finding out via snooping seems like both a faithful win for book fans and the most dramatic reveal possible. Also, with Eloise keeping Penelope's secret all through part 1, even from her brother, it's unlikely she'll be the one to spill the beans.

Of course, the bigger question regarding Whistledown's fate in Bridgerton is whether the gossip column and Julie Andrews' stellar narration, will live on past the end of season 3. In the books, the column does not appear again after Romancing Mister Bridgerton, when Penelope retires as Whistledown. However, the narration and the column's effects on the Ton are such a huge part of the show that it would be a complete bummer if they were taken away. Fingers crossed that Whistledown will stay a part of Bridgerton season 4 and beyond in some way, even after Penelope's unmasked.

Andrea Park

Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.