’Tis the season for giving, and since many of us have been so good this year in the face of some truly bleak times, Netflix has bestowed on us the gift of Bridgerton, arriving, appropriately, on Christmas Day. The Netflix series, produced by Shonda Rhimes and created by Chris Van Dusen, is based on the best-selling Regency-era romance novels of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. Spanning 1813 to 1827, the eight books chronicle the lives and loves and steamy hookups of the eight Bridgerton siblings — with each novel dedicated to one sibling’s story — who are part of a well-off and well-respected family in high-society London (also known as “the ton,” short for “le bon ton” or “good manners”). The first season of Bridgerton aligns most closely with the first book in the series, The Duke and I, which follows the eldest Bridgerton daughter Daphne’s story. It does, however, dip into some of the later novels while making some necessary changes, not just in its racially diverse casting but with new or revamped story lines.
If you’re thinking, Umm, this seems like a lot, and I am already confused, you’re not alone! The Bridgertons may be named in alphabetical order, but for newbies to the Bridgerton universe, they’re easy to mix up. Plus, add in all the other lords and ladies and dukes and anonymous gossip columnists who spend the social season in London and you have a whole mess of people to keep straight. But since some of us have already tackled this world in book form, we have some insider knowledge that may be useful as you make your way through the TV series. Here’s a character cheat sheet to help you parse who’s who and what they’re all up to based on information from the novels (so yes, dear reader, there are some minor book spoilers) as well as a couple of tidbits on new characters created for the TV adaptation. As you make your way through all the Regency scandals your heart may desire, This Author advises you to prepare yourself.
The family at the center of all the best scandals of the social season.
Violet Bridgerton, the Dowager Viscountess
The Dowager Viscountess is mother to the uncomfortably large Bridgerton brood, and as with any mother to any amount of children in Regency England, Violet is preoccupied with getting all of her children married and out of her hair — er, making sure they’re happy. Unlike other “marriage-minded mamas” in the novels, Violet wants her kids to make love matches. She wants this so much she’s even down with one of her kids possibly marrying a servant, which is unheard of. I mean, they’d have to go live in the country and be shunned forever, but she wouldn’t be doing the shunning, you know? She’s a real proponent of following one’s joy as long as joy means marriage, because let’s not get too carried away. Why is Violet seemingly so idealistic when it comes to one’s partner? She and her late husband, Edmund — who has been dead ten years at the start of the series, from a less harrowing but still fatal My Girl situation — were true soul mates and had a marriage all the Bridgerton children look to as the ideal.
Anthony Bridgerton, Viscount
Anthony is the eldest Bridgerton, and when his father died, Anthony inherited everything, including the title of viscount, at the young age of 18. He takes his job as head of the family very seriously (let’s be honest, Violet is the one holding this family together, but we can’t bruise Anthony’s fragile ego, I guess), especially when it comes to finding the right suitor for Daphne to marry and protecting her honor and all of that patriarchal shit. No one is good enough for Daph! Outside of managing the house, Anthony is mostly known around town for being a rake. Lady Whistledown and a whole bunch of other women refer to Anthony as a rake like 3,000 times throughout the book series. But as we learn in Anthony’s novel, The Viscount Who Loved Me, deep down that slutty dude is just a boy who misses his father and harbors an intense fear of dying young like Edmund. There’s more to Anthony than one might assume.
Just don’t call him No. 2, okay? He’s a human being, with feelings and thoughts and, most surprising, some real artistic skills. The second Bridgerton child, Benedict harbors a secret talent for sketching and painting. Major future spoiler here, but eventually Benedict is so good that he gets a painting into the National Gallery, and we’re all here for that kind of career success. Less successfully, Benedict tries to cover up his feelings of uselessness within his family. With his older brother the heir and viscount, Benedict doesn’t really know his place. He does, however, know he feels a bit stifled by the rules of the society he lives in. He is an artist, after all.
Aw, Colin! He’s the funny, charming Bridgerton, but he’d like to be thought of as more than just a good time. Like Benedict, Colin feels a bit lost being a man with no title (don’t worry, we don’t feel bad for these rich boys). As the third Bridgerton, he sees Anthony as the head of the family, watches as Benedict finds fulfillment in his art, and stands by as people make happy marriage matches all around him. In the novels, he’s so adamant about avoiding being forced into a marriage that he spends his time traveling abroad. This fills part of his void, but he’s looking for more. Hmmm, it couldn’t be that his mother, begging him to seek out someone to love, might be onto something, could it? Moms can never be right about stuff, can they??
Daphne is the fourth Bridgerton child but the main protagonist of the first novel in the series, The Duke and I. In it, Daphne’s 21 years old and in the middle of her second season out in society. She’s the consummate Regency-era daughter, willing to put on party dresses, attend every ball, and remain on her best behavior in hopes of making a match. In the novel, she’s even more pragmatic than her mother is — Daphne doesn’t care about love; she just wants to marry someone she enjoys being around. Unfortunately, Daph’s been having trouble getting a guy to propose because, as one eligible bachelor puts it, she’s “positively normal,” which is apparently a bad thing because guys are the worst in any era. She’s seen as a friend rather than someone to be desired. Which is where a certain duke comes in handy. In the TV series, Daphne’s situation is a little different: It’s her debut season, and she’s a huge hit but she’s still looking for a truly favorable match. Again, that vaguely aforementioned duke comes to her assistance here.
God bless Eloise Bridgerton! She has exactly no time for the whole of society bearing down on her telling her the only future available to her as a woman is to get married. She wants more from life — that’s why she’s happy with spinsterhood (she’s called a spinster at like 28, which is truly horrifying) and throughout the novels goes about turning down six different marriage proposals. She’s smart and biting and extremely observant. A detective-in-training, you might call her. When we meet her in 1813, she’s on the cusp of making her debut in society and is 100 percent dreading it. Eloise doesn’t want to play games — well, at least not this one, and she’s happy to fight it off as long as possible.
Francesca and Gregory and Hyacinth Bridgerton
Sorry not sorry, but we have a lot of Bridgertons to keep track of, and since the three youngest of the brood are just kids when we begin (the youngest, Hyacinth, is 10), they’ll remain on the fringes of the story for now. But please know that these kids do grow up and get their own novels to fully expand on their pursuits of romance.
High Society VIPs
Other major players in the ton, who, for better or worse, orbit the Bridgertons.
Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings
What romance is complete without a sad, hot boy? Simon, a friend of Anthony Bridgerton’s from Eton, is the saddest, hottest boy in town. He returns to England after years of traveling abroad in an attempt to completely avoid his father. They had a troubled relationship throughout Simon’s childhood, by which I mean Simon’s dad was a complete dick and Simon had every right to want nothing to do with him. He returns to town only after his father has died and he can claim his title. Still, most of Simon’s actions are tied to his feelings about his father, whether he wants to admit it or not, and his life is especially ruled by a certain vow he made in order to make his father miserable. And you thought Anthony Bridgerton had daddy issues! Anyway, the very eligible duke rolls into London in 1813, and all the ladies and their mothers go legitimately out of their minds. The duke has no interest in getting married, however, which is why he ends up making a secret pact with the eldest Bridgerton daughter. The dude’s just making vows and pacts wherever he goes! As is a Regency-era duke’s wont, I guess.
Everybody loves Pen! Well, except for her sisters, who make fun of her weight. And maybe her mother, who forces her to wear clothes that look terrible on her. And I guess most people in the ton, who kind of just ignore her existence completely. But those who know Penelope love her. She’s best friends with Eloise Bridgerton, and when we first meet her, in 1813, Colin Bridgerton is the object of her unrequited love (she first fell in love with him in 1812 when he fell off a horse, it’s a whole thing). He’s so nice to her! But she’s clearly in the friend zone. Later in the book series, however, Penelope gets to start dressing herself and ditching those unflattering frocks, and it’s pretty much the equivalent of Laney Boggs taking off her glasses in She’s All That. People notice!
Lady Portia Featherington
In the novels, Lady Featherington is the widowed mother of four daughters — in the TV series, it seems she has gained a living husband but has lost a daughter, her youngest, Felicity — and like most mamas in high-society London, she just wants them married off to a good match. Of course, for Lady Featherington “good” really only means “rich.” She’s, well, let’s call it “unkind” to Penelope and known for being one of the most gossipy women in town. You don’t want Lady Featherington to find you in a compromising situation, that’s for sure.
Philippa and Prudence Featherington
The elder Featherington sisters are usually mentioned as a pair, so we’ll stick with that trend. They’re mostly harmless — aside from being she-monsters to their sister Penelope — and are known for their red hair, the horrible dresses their mother makes them wear, and, well, for being real dummies. But even dummies are on the hunt for husbands in Regency London. Perhaps the best way to get across what Philippa and Prudence are all about is a moment in book four, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, when one character notes that spending time with the Featherington sisters would “make a grown man wish himself aboard a ship to Australia.” And at that time, Australia was still a penal colony, so you know that’s a solid mic drop to this pinkies-up crew.
Every social circle needs a Lady Danbury. She’s terrifying but in a way that makes you want to be her when you grow up. She’s a dowager who has been around for longer than anyone, and she knows what’s up. She says what she wants, when she wants, and her opinions are usually correct. She was friendly with Simon Basset’s late mother, and this relationship is expanded in the TV series as she becomes a guardian-type figure to Simon in his youth. If the sport of high society is husband-hunting, Lady D is the MVP.
This! Woman! Cressida is the mean girl of the ton. She’ll cut anyone who stands in her way of getting a good husband. I don’t mean physically cut, because I don’t think high-society women were allowed to hold knives in the Regency era unless they were buttering a crumpet or something (I base this on zero research but know I have read and watched Pride and Prejudice an alarming number of times), but rather, I mean it as cutting down someone verbally, which is to say she pretty much spends her time tormenting people we like (Daphne, Penelope, et al.). Honestly, how dare she?
Marina is perhaps one of the biggest character deviations from book to screen. She doesn’t show up until Eloise’s book, To Sir Phillip, With Love, the fifth in the series. She’s a distant Bridgerton cousin who suffers from depression and is married to her dead fiancé’s brother for eight years before attempting suicide and then dying from complications soon after. (This all takes place at the start of that novel, so it isn’t a huge spoiler. I’m not that mean! I’m no Cressida Cowper!) In the TV series, she’s a Featherington cousin who comes to live with the family at the start of the social season, and although she immediately wins over many suitors, she harbors a deep love for a soldier named George Crane and comes bearing some secrets that really, really piss off her aunt.
Lord Nigel Berbrooke
Nigel sucks, but he does pop up in the novels several times, much to the chagrin of all the single ladies in London, and he does have a role to play in season one of Bridgerton so he deserves a mention. But that’s really all this dope of a suitor deserves.
The One to Rule Them All
Ah, our Gossip Queen. The reason we’re all here (aside from the romance and the bodice-ripping). Lady Whistledown is the anonymous author of a scandal sheet that arrives in London in 1813 and completely upends the ton. She’s Gossip Girl but without the crushing disappointment of Dan Humphrey. Whistledown knows all and isn’t afraid to call out people by name (in fact, it’s her signature move). Plus, she’s got real smarts: She doesn’t charge for Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers until the lords and ladies get addicted to it and then she ups the prices — someone in London is getting very, very rich. But just because Lady Whistledown is the one airing everyone’s dirty laundry, it doesn’t mean she’s immune to scandal: Everyone wants to know who she really is, and some people will go to great lengths to figure out her identity. Who is she (or he!)? I’ll never tell — oh shit, wrong show.
The Newest Additions to the Ton
These characters aren’t part of the novels, but they play important roles in the TV Bridgertons’ lives so it’s best to get familiar.
She doesn’t figure into the novels, but she was the actual wife of King George III during this time. In the series, Queen Charlotte is possibly Lady Whistledown’s biggest fan but also the most interested in unmasking the person behind the gossip. She also has direct influence on the lives of our main characters. Although perhaps not as much as she’d like.
Queen Charlotte’s nephew and a man very much in want of a wife.
He has risen! He’s dead in the novels but alive and up to no good in the TV series.
Will and Alice Mondrich
Will is a boxer and Simon’s closest friend. Will (along with his wife, Alice) is the one typically left to knock some sense into the duke, both literally and figuratively.
An artist in the ton who takes Benedict under his wing. He throws some truly wild parties.
In the novels, there’s an opera singer named Maria Rosso who is, um, friendly with Anthony Bridgerton. In the TV series, she is reimagined as … well, okay, Siena Rosso is still an opera singer, but she has a much bigger role to play in the story of Anthony Bridgerton. 👀 💔
Genevieve is the most in-demand modiste in London. Because almost every high-society woman passes through her doors in need of a dress, she’s on the up-and-up for what’s going on in the ton. She also catches the eye of someone you may not suspect … but that’s all This Author is willing to report.