'Down with it, even to the ground' : William Dowsing's reception of the iconoclastic rationale
Caricatured as the Arch Vandal, William Dowsing (bap. 1596-1668) was a farmer and a soldier who entered into history as a radical figure in the English Civil War between Charles I and the Long Parliament. The Earl of Manchester commissioned Dowsing to tear down ‘pictures and superstitious images’ in the name of God and a parliamentary ordinance of 1643. The commission grew out of a series of puritan reform measures which aimed to overthrow the ‘popish innovations’ implemented in part by Archbishop William Laud in the 1630s. Dowsing’s iconoclastic campaign resulted in controversial visitations to churches, colleges and chapels throughout Cambridgeshire and Suffolk in 1643-44. This thesis engages with previous scholarship on William Dowsing and makes a distinct contribution by constructing a series of dialectics that framed the rationale for his iconoclasm. Much of the research on William Dowsing is predominately historical, cultural, or political because scholars have typically considered Reformed iconoclasm ‘from above’ as a phenomenon that occurred during times of religious upheaval. This project offers a historical/theological treatment of Dowsing and his civil war iconoclasm. The objective is to penetrate the puritan movement and to explore iconoclastic thought ‘from within’. The thesis accomplishes this goal through indirect and direct methods. The indirect approach involves an examination of Dowsing’s ‘puritan’ culture in Suffolk (Chapter Two) and attitudes relative to images within Reformed Orthodoxy in England in the mid-seventeenth century (Chapter Three). Several key primary sources sustain the more direct approach. Trevor Cooper’s recent edition of Dowsing’s journal, in which Dowsing recorded events from his campaign, paved the way for a new assessment of iconoclastic thought. This thesis examines the journal for its theological implications (Chapter Four) rather than attempting to restate the narrative of Dowsing’s itinerary. While the journal is crucial to a proper understanding of Dowsing’s rationale, the most direct category of evidence emerges from a study of Dowsing’s habits of reading and annotation (Chapter Five). Dowsing heavily annotated his six-volume collection of sermons preached to the Long Parliament between 1640-46. This study delineates the competing realities perceived by puritan preachers in the 1640s, as picked up by William Dowsing’s annotations (Chapter Six). In many ways, the preachers believed that iconoclasm played a tactical role in the overall strategy to secure a favorable outcome for the ‘godly’. Their sermons envisaged idealized religious conditions juxtaposed with the threat of divine retribution for idolatry in England. The iconoclast’s annotations show that the preachers’ doctrines echoed beyond the House of Commons to resonate within the houses of common people like Dowsing. This research is important because it highlights the often neglected area of lay engagement with the corporate puritan rationale for Reformation in the civil war period.