Richard Hakluyt: Biography & Significance

Instructor: Kathleen Halecki

Kathleen Halecki possesses a B.A. and M.A. in history, and a doctoral degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on early modern Scotland. She has been teaching for over a decade in subjects such as history, philosophy and anthropology.

In this lesson we will look at the life and works of Richard Hakluyt, a geographer and writer during the Age of Exploration. Hakluyt compiled works that included travel documents, oral histories and maps.

The Desire for Discovery

Have you ever read travel books that made you want to explore a brand new place or even go to another planet? What made them exciting? Was it the description of the place that made you wonder what it was like there?

Sometimes reading about a foreign lands makes us yearn to know more about it. Author and geographer Richard Hakluyt decided to write about the Americas as encouragement for others to learn about them.

Education and Early Life

Richard Hakluyt was probably born in London, England, in 1553. Both of his parents died when he was quite young, leaving Richard and his siblings in the care of an older cousin. Richard received a good education first at the Westminster School, and then at Christ Church, Oxford. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1574, followed by a Master of Arts in 1577.

He also became a minister in the Church of England. Like so many young people, Richard had his own interests. His were language and geography. He spoke possibly four languages (including Greek, Latin, French and Italian), and his love of geography, many scholars say, was influenced by a large map he saw as a child.

He was fascinated by voyages being made to far-off lands. Knowing so many languages helped him to read all types of works that recorded the adventures of travelers.

Influence

While he did not have the opportunity to travel around the world, he was able to live in France for five years as the chaplain to Sir Edward Stafford. Stafford at that time was the ambassador to Paris for Queen Elizabeth I of England.

While in France he was able to expand his knowledge of foreign places which inspired him to write and publish books on the subject to encourage colonization. He died on November 23, 1616.

Stained glass image of Richard Hakluyt
richard Hakluyt

Age of Exploration

Hakluyt living during an interesting period in history called the Age of Exploration or sometimes the Age of Discovery. It began with Portuguese exploring places such as the Atlantic archipelagos and the coast of Africa during the fifteenth century. This period included also the voyages of Christopher Columbus that opened the way for discovery and brought the 'Old' and 'New' Worlds into contact with each other.

Captains of ships would document the places they visited such as the Far East and the Americas. As Spain took the lead in colonization, a great competition began between European powers. However, the risk was great for everyone involved and in the case of England, encouragement was needed.

Encouraging English Colonization

Hakluyt understood that in order for England to be successful and remain powerful, they would need to find new markets in which to trade goods. They'd also need to provide for the numerous unemployed who filled the streets of cities such as London.

England was in an economic depression and was nervous about the growing power of Spain obtaining vast amounts of wealth from their spoils of the New World. Queen Elizabeth was under great pressure to provide for her people.

Some of the gentlemen of her court wished to pursue opportunities to colonize, and Hakluyt wrote Discourse on Western Planting to encourage her to lend her support to men such as Sir Walter Raleigh.

Hakluyt's Benefits of Colonization

In this document, Hakluyt outlined particular points highlighting the benefits of colonization for the English people. Of chief concern would be for ''the enlargement of the gospel of Christ,'' in converting the natives to the Anglican religion. He also mentioned that ''this enterprise will be for the manifold employment of numbers of idle men'', which would bring great relief to those who without work.

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