Otway, Thomas (1616–93), Church of Ireland bishop of Ossory, was born 1 November 1616 in Aldebury, Wiltshire, where his father, George Otway, was vicar. He attended school at Winchester and entered Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1632, graduating BA in 1636 and MA in 1639. He received the degree of DD from TCD in 1670.
During the English civil war he was chaplain to Sir Ralph Hopton, a royalist commander, but remained in England when his patron went into exile in the late 1640s. He took part in Penruddock's short-lived royalist rising at Salisbury in March 1656 and was taken prisoner at Sherborne in Dorset. He was kept in prison for some months, first at Ilchester in Somerset and then at Plymouth, before he was transported to the West Indies, probably Barbados, where he remained apparently until the restoration.
He was rector of St Botolph's, Billingsgate, in London, 1663–4, and Etchingham in Sussex, 1664–70. He became chaplain to Lord Berkeley (qv), lord lieutenant of Ireland (1670–72), on whose recommendation he was made bishop of Killala in 1671. In this diocese he distinguished himself by his zeal against presbyterians and tories. In 1677 he ordered the arrest of two presbyterian preachers who had entered his diocese, but the earl of Essex (qv), the lord lieutenant, and the duke of Ormond (qv) were both irritated at what they considered to be Otway's clumsy handling of subsequent legal proceedings.
He dealt in an almost military fashion with tories, whom he thought were inadequately deterred by regular court proceedings. Appointed by Essex a ‘marshal to reprove the insolencies of the tories’ (Pike (ed.), 114) and holding the view that government proclamations provided authority for summary justice, he encouraged beheadings without trial in his diocese, and personally oversaw one such execution. The incident appears to have been well known, though Ormond's son, Lord Ossory (qv), learned of it only in 1680 when Otway's translation was under consideration. On hearing the story from Essex, Ossory was moved, in writing on 6 January 1680 to his father, now lord lieutenant, to enquire whether further preferment should be given to a clergyman ‘so indiscreet and violent as to make a tory's head be cut off in his house, when brought in a prisoner’ (HMC, Rep. 6, 725).
The king had signed the letter for the appointment on the day Ossory wrote, and Otway was duly translated on 7 February 1680 to the diocese of Ossory, and appointed archdeacon of Armagh in commendam. Ormond must before long have regretted the installation of this bishop in his own city. By November Otway had raised an ancient dispute between the see and the corporation of Kilkenny to a new pitch of bitterness. In 1682 Ormond was thinking of moving him; in 1683 the municipal dispute was said by Ormond's son and lord deputy, Lord Arran (qv), to be scandalous, and again a move was contemplated; in 1685, however, Ormond was told that Otway refused absolutely to move. He remained bishop of Ossory until his death, though he resigned his Armagh archdeaconry in 1691. He appears to have remained in Ireland throughout the war between James II (qv) and King William (qv), when most of his fellow bishops fled to England for security. He was one of just four bishops who attended the parliament convened by James, which sat from May to July 1689. In October 1689 he was in Kilkenny defying the claims of the corporation, now in the hands of the Jacobites.
Otway was one of the few clergy of the Church of Ireland who entertained grave scruples about transferring allegiance from James to William and Queen Mary. William was displeased when he learned in July 1690 that the bishop had not ordered his clergy to pray for the new king and his queen, and a letter for his suspension was prepared. At first the bishop, referring to his sufferings under Oliver Cromwell (qv), declared himself willing to submit to the penalties rather than yield. Bishop Dopping (qv) of Meath intervened, encouraging Otway to reconsider and urging the government to allow him some time; the fact that Sir Robert Southwell (qv), secretary to William, was personally sympathetic may have helped. In November 1690 Otway announced that he would give allegiance to William, and so avoided the fate of his colleague William Sheridan (qv), bishop of Kilmore, who suffered deprivation. Otway did not attend the house of lords in 1692 and made no further appearance in public life.
He died unmarried 6 March 1693. In his lifetime he made many improvements in, and gifts to, his dioceses. His will included bequests to Christ's College, Cambridge, and Trinity College, Dublin. He left his books, together with a fund, for the foundation at St Canice's cathedral of a library for the use of the clergy. It is the oldest diocesan library of the Church of Ireland, having survived the negligence of his executors and, in the twentieth century, more than one proposal to sell it. Papers relating to his imprisonment and family affairs are preserved in the Gilbert Library, Dublin. His elder brother John (d. 1694), an officer in the parliamentary army, was granted estates in Co. Tipperary and Co. Limerick in 1665 and founded the Irish line of the family.