Who Is Michaela Stirling, Bridgerton's Newest Character?

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It wouldn't be a Bridgerton finale without some scintillating drama, and Season 3's last episode truly delivered with the introduction of a new character, whose presence marks a major departure from the books.

In the final episode, Francesca Bridgerton (Hannah Dodd) has just gotten married to the quiet but kind John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin (Victor Alli) and is preparing to move to the Scottish highlands, where her husband has a family castle. The newlyweds won't be moving to Scotland alone, however, as her sister Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) invites herself along to escape the scrutiny of the ton, and John reveals that his vivacious cousin, Michaela Sterling (Masali Baduza) plans on living with them at the castle as well. At the final ball of the season, John introduces Michaela to Francesca—and it's clear that the two women have an instant connection.

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As the gentle readers of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books know well, in When He Was Wicked, the book centered around Francesca, the story begins with Francesca and John happily enjoying married life in Scotland, where they reside with John's lively cousin, Michael Stirling, who harbors a secret crush on Francesca. After John passes away from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm just two years into their marriage, Francesca is left reeling with grief, while Michael, equally grief stricken, becomes the new Earl of Kilmartin. As years pass, the pair fall in love with one another, eventually marrying and starting a family together.

Which is why the show's decision to reimagine the character of John's cousin as Michaela, instead of Michael, is significant. Though there was a queer love story for supporting characters in Queen Charlotte, and Benedict affirms his bisexuality in the last two episodes of Season 3, Bridgerton has yet to have a major queer love story or storyline. Given the source material and the palpable chemistry between Francesca and Michaela upon meeting, it's safe to assume that the two characters could have a romance in the future, which might finally give fans one of the queer romantic storylines that showrunner Jess Brownell teased earlier this year.

John Stirling and Francesca Bridgerton tie the knot<span class="copyright">Courtesy of Netflix</span>
John Stirling and Francesca Bridgerton tie the knotCourtesy of Netflix

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"It only feels right to show the all the ways in which people love, including queer love," Brownell said in an interview with Refinery 29 Australia. "So we are exploring queer love stories across the next couple of seasons. I don't want to say exactly how that plays out, but it was important to me to foreground queer love and to tell queer stories and tell stories about queer joy as well."

While it's still unknown which Bridgerton character will be the focus of the next season, here's hoping we'll get to see Francesca and Michaela's relationship develop during season 4.

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.