History’s Real-Life Lady Whistledown Revealed
Imagine an early 19th century London with a female writer so influential that even the Queen of England hangs on her every pointed word. A society steered from afar by an anonymous, all-seeing critic with the power to alter destinies.
Though Bridgerton’s Lady Whistledown might seem like a fantasy, it turns out the show’s narrator is actually based on fact.
A recent article published in Town & Country, outlined the historical precedence for the fictional “Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers.”
It should come as no surprise that people throughout history have harbored an insatiable appetite for gossip—especially regarding the upper classes. In the Regency period, newspaper columns gave ordinary folk a glimpse at all the glitz, glamour, and scandal.
And if the newspaper didn’t cover something, a “gossip sheet” surely would.
According to historian Catherine Curzon, author of The Daughters of George III: Sisters and Princesses, Lady Whistledown bears a striking resemblance to “Mrs. Crackenthorpe,” a real-life gossip writer from 18th century England.
“She does call to mind ‘Mrs. Crackenthorpe,’ billed as ‘a Lady that knows everything,’” Curzon told Town & Country. “Mrs. Crackenthorpe was the anonymous author behind the Female Tatler, which was published from 1709 to 1710. It’s a gem of satire, remarkable for being intended for women, and with a primary aim to educate—often through sharp observation—but with an eye for gossip too. Though the Female Tatler was short-lived, other magazines flourished.”
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But there are differences between “Mrs. Crackenthorpe” and Bridgerton’s fictional Lady Whistledown. While Lady Whistledown doesn’t hesitate to identify her subjects by name, Mrs. Crackenthorpe and her contemporaries shied away from naming names.
“It was rare for names to be published, but the codes used to disguise the identity of the subjects were deliberately easy to see through,” Curzon told Town & Country. “This meant that it was simply a matter of decoding some fairly basic hints about the people involved, so a prince might be referred to as ‘an illustrious gentleman,’ or an actress by the name of her most notorious or celebrated characters.”
So, Lady Whistledown might not be the first “Lady that knows everything,” but she certainly is the most cutthroat.