Ladies Whistledown and Crackenthorpe
Lady Whistledown, aka the Gossip Girl of Netflix’s wildly popular 1800s drama Bridgerton, is quick to report on the scandals of the British upper classes. Who were some of her real-life equivalents?
‘London is awash these days with Ambitious Mamas.’ So writes the pseudonymous ‘Lady Whistledown’ in Volume 1 of author Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Collection on which the Regency England Netflix series is based.
‘At Lady Worth’s ball last week This Author saw no fewer than eleven Determined Bachelors, cowering in corners and eventually fleeing the premises with those Ambitious Mamas hot on their heels. It is difficult to determine who, precisely, is the worst of the lot, although This Author suspects the contest may come down to a near draw between Lady Bridgerton and Mrs. Featherington, with Mrs. F edging Lady B out by a nose.’
The fictitious Lady Whistledown falls easily into a real list of anonymous British scandal-breakers, including the 18thCentury ‘Mrs Crackenthorpe – a Lady that knows everything.’
The pseudonymous Mrs. Phoebe Crackenthorpe wrote for The Female Tatler – a magazine that, despite its short run from 1709 to 1710, had significant impact both on its readers and the publishing industry. The Female Tatler even inspired an imposter that was brutally dismissed by the ‘real Mrs. Crackenthorpe.’
This was a magazine said to be written by women, a challenger to the more mainstream Tatler. After Mrs. Crackenthorpe was done tattling, she was followed by a ‘Society of Modest Ladies’ that included ‘Arabella, Artesia, Emilia, Lucinda, Sophronia, and Rosella.’
Mrs. Phoebe Crackenthorpe had strong opinions.
‘Nothing can be so unfortunate to an agreeable young lady,’ she wrote in #28, ‘as want of decorum, since as her beauty raises the envy of the world, they pursue it by a constant prying into her conduct.’
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Crackenthorpe was more than a little classist. In #26, she offered: ‘This town does so swarm with people in masquerade that one hardly knows a gentleman from his tailor, a lady from her sempstress, or a merchant’s eldest son from Dick-Dapper that sweeps the shop.’
Phoebe Crackenthorpe would, nevertheless, take the wealthy to task. As she warned in #17: ‘Extravagance in men of distinction, to outvie in dress, equipage, and luxurious entertainments, discover an empty pride and groundless ostentation, which makes ‘em slighted by those in business.’
But, despite all of her lifestyle tips, Mrs. Phoebe Crackenthorpe, like Lady Whistledown, trafficked primarily in gossip.
Things started off well for ‘Lady Lisp-Well’, a woman with a ‘roguish eye, a winning pout, a fashionable waddle, and a thousand pretty taking affections.’ That is, until she left her husband, Sir Lionel, for ‘Jack Medley-Brain, a distasteful wretch.’ As we read in Female Tatler #20:
‘The good Sir Lionel, her spouse, whom ev’ry body speaks well of, and wou’d he not load his periwig with so much powder, is as complete in his person as his understanding has, with lowest matrimonial submission, entreated her return to her children. But her Ladyship has her health nowhere but Hampstead. He supplies her with money; she wants more, has it, and ‘tis gone .’
In Female Tatler #24, we read of a pair of unfortunate sisters:
‘These bacon beauties have for many years been the ridicule of Leaden-Hall Street, they are the reverse of every thing that’s well bred, the burlesque of every new fashion, and the gaze of ev’ry body that knows what’s decent and regular, yet they pretend to wit, having perus’d the covering several band-boxes, and talk of plays and operas, when ‘twould be more of commendable in ‘em to study weights and scales, debtor and creditor, and manage their father’s shop, with an obliging and submissive carriage to his customers.
Bridgerton’s Lady Whistledown is played by none other than Dame Julie Andrews. And who was the real Mrs. Crackenthorpe?
That’s one secret I’ll never tell.
Well, maybe if scholars can come to a consensus. Until then: XOXO.
Header: Liam Daniel. Netflix. Bridgerton
Painting 2: Joshua Reynolds. Charles Coote, 1st Earl of Bellamont. 1773
Painting 3: Thomas Gainsborough. Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott. 1778