The real history behind ‘Poldark’ series three: episode two

As Winston Graham’s Georgian-set drama returns to BBC One for a third season, historian Hannah Greig considers different aspects of the real history behind each episode of Poldark. In the second instalment of a new series for History Extra, Hannah profiles the new characters joining Ross and Demelza. Meet the Carne brothers…

Did you miss the history behind episode one? Read the first instalment here.

“Oo be this, then?” Prudie asked last week, spotting Demelza’s brother, Drake Carne, striding towards Nampara. Viewers will no doubt have been pleased to have seen more of him in episode two as he emerged from a bathe only to be propositioned by Prudie. Meanwhile the other brother, Sam, has been capturing the attention of the ‘bal maidens’ – the women who work at the surface of the mines – with his charismatic public preaching.  

Following in their late father’s footsteps, the Carne brothers are Methodists, with Sam the more fervent of the two. Founded as a denomination of Protestantism by John and Charles Wesley in the second half of the 18th century, Methodists were distinguished by their belief in personal salvation and self-improvement, and a methodical commitment to faith expressed through action. These ideals and the Methodist style of informal preaching and support for the disenfranchised struck a particular chord with poorer and working communities, such as those the centred around the Cornish mines.


Drake Carne. (Mammoth Screen/BBC)
 

Whilst the movement had some wealthy and eminent patrons, like Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, the Methodist presumption of man’s equality was uncomfortable to others. The Duchess of Buckingham, for instance, declared it: “monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting and at variance with high rank and good breeding.”

John Wesley, however, was unlikely to have been ruffled by aristocrats’ concerns. “To speak the rough truth, I do not desire any discourse with any person of quality,” he declared as he travelled the length and breadth of the country, mesmerizing audiences with his outdoor preaching, passionate sermons and uplifting hymns. His message was taken up by lay preachers who worked to convert particular regions and save their local communities. To provide guidance to this fledgling but flourishing movement, Wesley wrote and published 'minutes', the principles and methods of Methodism that his preachers could follow. Amongst other things, Wesley recommended a vegetarian diet, 4am starts to the day, mornings spent in reading and prayer, and fasting on Fridays. “Foolish talking” and idleness were to be assiduously avoided, and Wesley warned male followers to “converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particularly young women”. 


Demelza's brothers Drake and Sam are capturing the attentions of Poldark's mine workers. (Mammoth Screen/BBC)
 

As devout Methodists, will the Carne brothers abide by these principles? In seeking out Warleggan governess Morwenna’s company and conversation, Drake for one seems to be faltering.  

Hannah Greig is author of The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London (OUP, 2013) and is a historical advisor on the BBC One drama series Poldark.

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