Bridgerton’s Cressida Cowper is Now Perfectly Placed For Her Big Book Move

She can cause maximum carnage.

Jessica Madsen as Cressida in Bridgerton, wearing a pink gown and jacket
Photo: Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

Warning: contains spoilers for Bridgerton Season 3A, episodes 1-4.

The moment that Eloise Bridgerton loudly and publicly declared she “would rather die” than join Cressida Cowper’s mean girl gang was one to relish. 

In the Bridgerton season two opener, Eloise’s stock as a debutante had risen temporarily high after Queen Charlotte took an unexpected shine to her. Cressida, sensing an opportunity for reflected glory, swept in to recruit Eloise to her clique, not missing the chance to insult El’s dear friend Penelope Featherington on the way. In no uncertain terms, Eloise stood up for her friend, turned down the offer and marched away hand-in-hand with Pen. Hooray for brainy, bookish girls everywhere! Boo to nasty, shallow Queen Bees!

Then what should happen in the season three opener, but Eloise be seen hanging off Cressida Cowper’s arm on a promenade? After the big bust-up with Pen at the end of last season, Eloise had been forced to re-evaluate her options and relented to befriend the conceited, gossip-mongering bully. Not only that, but now the conceited, gossip-mongering bully turned out to have… feelings?

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One of Bridgerton’s many masterstroke additions to the original books (making Queen Charlotte a character just one of them) is in developing the character of Cressida Cowper through her friendship with Eloise. It’s not just smart because it reminds us that baddies are made and not born, but also because it will make Cressida’s next move so much more dramatic…

Bridgerton book – and potential season 3 plot – spoilers ahead.

Rather than depict Eloise gritting her teeth through a mismatched friendship with Cressida, Bridgerton season three shows genuine intimacy between the pair. Eloise is surprised and delighted to find that Cressida has independently reached the same conclusion as she did about the marriage market, which both see as harmful to female friendships. Cressida is similarly surprised and delighted to find that Eloise really cares about her, and calls on her at home after she appeared out of sorts at a social event.

Cressida’s cruel instincts, we’re shown, were shaped by a life devoid of companionship. Sharp-elbowed snob Lady Cowper is nothing like Eloise’s wise and empathetic mother, and life at the Cowper home, which Cressida correctly describes as like a mausoleum, is nothing like the bustling and laughter-filled Bridgerton household. Lady Violet aspires for her children to marry for love and patiently guides them to do so, while the Cowpers only rebuke Cressida for her failure to secure a match and threaten to force her into one with a much older stranger of their choice.

El and Cress’ friendship is surprisingly charming to watch. So charming in fact, that if the show’s creators had wanted to veer seriously off-book, then the groundwork is laid to even make it a romance. Cressida positions herself as a potential beau at least linguistically by chiding Eloise for having rejected “her suit” the previous season, and when she asks El how it is that she sees the world in season three episode four, Eloise seems so moved that she looks at Cress using the heart-eyes with which she gazed on printer and political firebrand Theo Sharpe last season. Eloise, remember, is a girl turned on by ideas. 

And Cressida, remember, is a girl raised to seduce. Whether swooning at Prince Freidrich’s feet, pretending an injury to Lord Debling, or faking interest in Eloise’s world view, she knows how to flatter and deceive – though combined with her transparency and mean streak, it hasn’t yet earned her a husband. 

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However charming a pair Eloise and Cressida sporadically make, it’s highly unlikely that ‘Elcress’ – or whatever their official ship name is – will come to pass on Bridgerton, because Cressida is about to cross a major line. 

The Lady Whistledown scandal sheet plot is a key part of the Bridgerton TV show. While Julia Quinn’s books withheld the revelation that Penelope Featherington is behind the pen name for several instalments, the show revealed it in the season one finale, and the intrigue of the secret is a major plot-driver in seasons two and three. By the end of season three’s first half, only the “modiste” Genevieve Delacroix and Eloise Bridgerton knows that Lady W is Penelope. But that’s about to change… 

Cressida v Penelope

Cressida’s cruel jibes have always targeted Penelope, whom she describes as an “insipid wallflower” and sees as laughable competition in the marriage mart. Inexperienced in meaningful female friendship, Cressida assumes that because Eloise has fallen out with Penelope, that she will enjoy cruelty towards her. She expects approval for deliberately tearing Pen’s new gown at a ball and publicly calling the fabric cheap. El does not approve, and, knowing Pen far better than Cressida, she also doesn’t discount her prospects in the search for a husband. 

Rightly so. By season three, episode four, Penelope and Colin Bridgerton have finally wended their way to one another in a long-awaited steamy clinch. But Colin doesn’t yet know Pen’s secret, and previously swore never to forgive “Lady Whistledown” for exposing his family’s various scandals. 

That puts Pen on very shaky ground. If Colin finds out that she’s Whistledown, it could be game over for them. And who is now closest to Eloise, the only one in their set who knows the secret? Cressida. Her honed instincts for girl-on-girl rivalry and desperation to hang on to the only friend she’s ever had in her life make her proximity dangerous. Penelope Featherington is now Cressida’s rival not just in the husband hunt, but also for Eloise’s friendship. Any thawing of El and Pen’s froideur would surely be seen by Cressida as a threat.

And you know what, you can almost sympathise. Cress has never had a friend like El. If she were to gain an advantage over her rival – like say, stumbling upon her massive secret – why wouldn’t she strike to protect a friendship she values so much?

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That’s why developing this odd-couple friendship was a masterstroke for season three. When Cressida makes her next move, it won’t be the lashing out of an arbitrary villain, it’ll be the bitter actions of a woman whose pain we understand, and it will be all the more dramatic for it.

Bridgerton season 3B streams on Netflix from June 13.