William Dowsing (15961668) operated at the time of the English Civil War. Dowsing was a puritan soldier who was born in Laxfield, Suffolk.
In 1643 he was appointed by their Captain-General, the Earl of Manchester as "Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition" to carry out a Parliamentary Ordinance of the 28th of August 1643 which stated that "all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry should be removed and abolished", specifying: "fixed altars, altar rails, chancel steps, crucifixes, crosses, images of the Virgin Mary and pictures of saints or superstitious inscriptions." In May 1644 the scope of the Ordinance was widened to include representations of angels (a particular obsession of Dowsing's), rood lofts, holy water stoups, and images in stone, wood and glass and on plate.
Dowsing carried out his work in 1643-4 by visiting over 250 churches in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, removing or defacing items that he thought fitted the requirements outlined in the Ordinance. He recruited assistants, apparently among his friends and family, and where they were unable to perform the work themselves he left instructions for the work to be carried out. Sometimes the local inhabitants assisted his work, but often he was met by resistance or non-co-operation. His commission, backed up by the ability to call on military force if necessary, meant that he usually got his way. He charged each church a noble (a third of a pound:- 33p) for his services.
Feb. 23. At Mr. [Capt.] Watgraves [Waldegraves]
chappel, in Buers [Smallbridge Hall chapel, Bures St Mary], there was a
picture of God the Father, and divers other superstitious pictures, 20 at
least, which they promised to break, his daughter and servants. He himself
was not at home, neither could they find the key of the chappell. I had
not the 6s. 8d. yet promised it. And gave order to take down a cross.
Buers [Bures St Mary], Feb. 23. We brake down above 600 superstitious pictures, 8 Holy Ghosts, 3 of God the Father, and 3 of the Son. We took up 5 superstitious of Quorum animabus propitietur deus; one Pray for the soul. And superstitious in the windows, and some divers of the apostles.
Beales ver1 06/04/10