The English geographer and author Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552-1616) was one of the first practical geographers in England and an important promoter of the English colonization of North America.
The second son of Richard Hakluyt, a London skinner, Richard Hakluyt attended Westminster School. A meeting with his cousin, the geographer Richard Hakluyt (ca. 1535-1591), aroused his interest in practical geography, cosmography, and trade. Young Richard performed well at Westminster and proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1575 and a master of arts degree in 1577. He was ordained priest a few years later. Meanwhile, he avidly pursued his geographical studies and lectured on geography at Oxford. He cultivated the acquaintance of men he called "the chiefest Captains at sea, the greatest Merchants, and the best Mariners of our nation." These men included Sir Francis Drake. In 1580 he sponsored the publication of two accounts of voyages by Jacques Cartier. John Florio, who was at Oxford, translated the originals.
Hakluyt became involved with the colonialist party in England. His first significant work, Divers Voyages Touching the Discovery of America (1582), served as an inspiration for English expansion. It was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney. In addition to accounts of English voyages, it included a list of American products and a discussion of the Northwest Passage.
Within a few months after the publication of the Voyages, Hakluyt entered government service. He helped to promote Sir Humphrey Gilbert's voyage of 1583 and then went to France, where he served as chaplain to the ambassador, Sir Edward Stafford. During his years in France (1583-1588) he collected geographical information from French, Portuguese, and Spanish sources. Meanwhile, he returned to England on various occasions. In behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh he presented the Queen with a plea for royal aid in Western planting (1584). The Queen rewarded him with a prebend at Bristol. He was in England when Raleigh's first colony sailed, when Drake brought it home again, and when Raleigh's second, or "lost, " colony sailed. In France he sponsored the publication of books concerning geography and exploration.
In 1589 Hakluyt published the first edition of his major work, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, a historical compilation of English enterprise abroad. Shortly thereafter he married. He continued to associate with those interested in the Virginia colony and in the East India Company. The second edition of the Principal Navigations, about twice as long as the first, appeared in three folio volumes between 1598 and 1600. It contained new material from all periods, including new information on the exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh. Hakluyt received a prebend at Westminster and was made chaplain of the Savoy.
Hakluyt's Principal Navigations was reprinted in 12 volumes by the Hakluyt Society (1903-1905). Several partial reprints have been published. There is a short biography by Foster Watson, Richard Hakluyt (1924). The standard work on Hakluyt's life and achievement is George B. Parks, Richard Hakluyt and the English Voyages (2d ed. 1961). The influence of the voyages on English literature was studied by Robert Ralston Cawley, The Voyagers and Elizabethan Drama (1938) and Unpathed Waters:Studies in the Influence of the Voyagers on Elizabethan Literature (1940).