Delaune, Thomas (d. 1685), nonconformist writer, was born in Brinny, Co. Cork, son of a poor catholic tenant farmer. Maj. Riggs (fl. 1650–95), landowner and one of the earliest supporters of the baptists in Cork, was impressed by his ability and sent him to a friary at Kilcrash, near Cork. Completing his education aged about 16, he was employed as a clerk in a pilchard factory at Kinsale. He became a protestant, but his zeal excited persecution and led him to emigrate to England, where he met Edward Hutchinson (fl. 1676), a baptist minister and writer, formerly a pastor on Ormond Quay, Dublin, and married his daughter Hannah. Delaune settled in London, working as a translator and writer; he subsequently opened a grammar school and ventured into printing.
A scholarly man, acquainted with many baptist ministers though never himself a minister or lay preacher, he entered into religious debate, publishing a number of tracts including Truth defended against Mr [Richard] Baxter, [Obadiah]Wills and [Joseph]Whiston, with Mr [Edward] Hutchinson's letter to Mr Baxter (1677), concerning baptism, and Compulsion of conscience condemned (1683). He collaborated with his friend Benjamin Keach (1640–1704) on Tropologia, or scheme to open scripture metaphors (1681), and wrote The present state of London (1681), describing its government, rights, and privileges, later reprinted as Angliae metropolis (1690).
In 1684 he responded to the challenge to discuss the differences between the nonconformists and the Church of England contained in A discourse about a scrupulous conscience (1683) by Benjamin Calamy (1642–86), Church of England rector and chaplain to the king, and wrote his celebrated work Plea for the non-conformists giving the true state of the dissenters’ case (1683), justifying their separation from the Church of England. Delaune was arrested (November 1683) before publication and imprisoned in Newgate. He wrote to Calamy reminding him that ‘my confinement is for accepting your invitation, I look upon you obliged in honour to procure my sheets, yet unfinished . . . and my liberty’ (Neal, 242). In a second letter he invited him to visit him in prison and discuss their religious beliefs, but Calamy failed to reply. Delaune was tried (January 1684) at the Old Bailey and found guilty of writing and publishing a seditious libel against ‘our lord the king and the Book of Common Prayer’ (Neal, 243). In defence he pleaded that the question might be thoroughly examined, that entire paragraphs should be read, and that ‘if fragments only be produced, from which no perfect sense can be deduced, I shall be unfairly dealt with’ (Cramp, 345). He was fined 100 marks (£66.66) and ordered to find security for his good behaviour for one year, and his books were publicly burned. Unable to pay the fine, he remained in Newgate. He published Two letters to Benjamin Calamy by T. D. on his imprisonment (1684), and A narrative of the trial and sufferings of T. D. for writing and publishing a late book (1684).
Deprived of his income as a schoolmaster, he was unable to provide for himself or his family. His wife and two children were forced to join him in Newgate; dependent only on charity, they died there of undernourishment and neglect. After fifteen months of imprisonment, borne with great patience, Delaune also died (1685) in Newgate. His Plea . . . became a standard baptist apology and was reprinted many times. Daniel Defoe (c.1660–1731) wrote a preface for the 1706 edition in which he lamented the cruel treatment of a fine scholar and a Christian and decried the failure of the dissenters to pay the £66.13s. 4d. necessary for his release. He described Delaune's book as ‘perfect of itself . . . if any man ask . . . why the dissenters differ from the Church of England? . . . I can recommend no better reply than this . . . Thomas Delaune, and desire the querist to read the book.’ ‘Since no man will build a monument upon his grave’, Defoe added, he wrote the preface as a ‘monument upon his work’ (preface, ).