Although alleged to be of Norwich, Thomas Deloney was most likely born in London where he was trained as a silk-weaver. An entry in the parish register of St Giles-without-Cripplegate from 16 October 1586, records the baptism of his son Richard.
In the course of the next ten years he is known to have written about fifty ballads, one-sheet stories and news sheets, some of which got him into trouble, and caused him to keep a low profile for a time. John Strype described him as "presumptuous", because the heroes and heroines of his works were clearly common people, and therefore in Strype's terms only suitable for comedy or farce.
According to A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 'Less under the influence of John Lyly and other preceding writers than Greene, he is more natural, simple, and direct, and writes of middle-class citizens and tradesmen with light humour. Of his novels, Thomas of Reading is in honour of clothiers, Jack of Newbury celebrates weaving, and The Gentle Craft is dedicated to the praise of shoemakers. He "dy'd poorely," but was "honestly buried."'
The lavish diversity of his characters, has led to him being viewed as a precursor of Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Charles Dickens. The critic Merritt E. Lawlis has pointed out that, Deloney was the first English novelist to use a dramatic technique in his novels in which scenes appear as if they were episodes in a play.
Among his works were:
- Three broadsides inspired by the Spanish Armada: "The Queenes visiting of the Campe at Tilsburie with her entertainment there," "A Joyful new Ballad, declaring the happie obtaining of the great Galleazzo", and "A new Ballet of the straunge and Most cruell Whippes which the Spaniards had prepared."
- A collection of Strange Histories (1607); historical ballads by Deloney, with some poems from other hands. This collection contains the ballad of Fair Rosamond.
- The Blind Beggar of Bednall Green and The Pleasant and sweet History of Patient Grissel in the collection Garland of Good Will.
- Jack of Newbury celebrating weavers.
- The Gentle Craft (1597) in praise of shoemakers.
- The Pleasant Historie of John Winchecombe (8th ed., 1619).
- Thomas of Reading or the Sixe Worthie Yeomen of the West in honour of clothiers (1612).
- Assertions that Deloney was probably born in Norwich are all based on a failure to double-check sources. F. O. Mann misquoted Thomas Nashe as referring to Deloney as "the balletiting silk-weaver of Norwich." The phrase "of Norwich" is Mann's invention, one that has somehow eluded scholars. See Hyder E. Rollins, "Notes on Thomas Deloney," Modern Language Notes 32.2 (1917): 121-23. On the possibility that Deloney was of immigrant heritage, see Scott Oldenburg, Alien Albion: Literature and Immigration in Early Modern England (U. of Toronto Press, 2014), 75-98.
- Rollison, David A Commonwealth of the People: Popular Politics and England's Long Social Revolution, 1066-1649, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 330. Readers are, however, encouraged to consult Hyder E. Rollins, "Notes on Thomas Deloney,," Modern Language Notes 32 (1917), 121-23. This long ignored article draws attention to the lack of actual evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, for Norwich as Deloney's birthplace.
- Rollison, David A Commonwealth of the People: Popular Politics and England's Long Social Revolution, 1066-1649, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 330
- See Thomas Deloney (Charles Roberts Aldrich and Lucian Swift Kirtland, editors), Thomas Deloney His Thomas of Reading and Three Ballads on the Spanish Armada (New York: J. F. Taylor & Company, 1903).
- Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.
- Deloney, Thomas eNotes, Accessed February 2014
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 960. .
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- The most Rare and Excellent History, Of the Dutchess of Suffolks Calamity London: A.M., no date
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons – via Wikisource.
- Mann, F.O. (ed) The Works of Thomas Deloney Oxford Clarendon Press, 1912.