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Richard Hakluyt ( 1553 - 1616 )  Category ( Historical_Figures ) [suggest a correction]

Richard HakluytBorn in either Hereford County or in London to well connected family of Welsh extraction around 1553, Richard Hakluyt is best known to history as a writer and supporter of the English colonization of Virginia. Orphaned at age five, his uncle of the same name, who also read law at the Middle Temple in London, saw to it that the child received a quality education. Early on he expressed a strong interest in cosmography and maps. After completing a Master of Arts at Christ Church, Oxford, where his focus was the study of recorded voyages and discovery, he began giving public lectures in geography. Later he undertook study in divinity. His first publication was Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America and the Islands Adjacent unto the Same, Made First of all by our Englishmen and Afterwards by the Frenchmen and Britons (1582). This work caught the attention of members of government and others interested in establishing a colony in the New World. Courtier Sir Walter Raleigh was impressed enough to commission a further study written by Hakluyt, entitled A Particular Discourse Concerninge the Greate Necesittie and Manifolde Commodyties That Are Like to Growe to This Realme of Englande by the Westerne Discoueries Lately Attempted, Written in the Yere 1584. Lost for centuries, this important work resurfaced and was published for the first time in 1877. Both Raleigh and Hakluyt felt the work was important enough for Hakluyt to present to Queen Elizabeth I herself, in an attempt to gain her support for expeditions to the New World.

Hakluyt spent a number of years at the English Embassy in Paris. In 1588 he returned to England and published what is considered his most significant work, The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation. This work was later expanded to three volumes in c.1600. The second volume was dedicated to Sir Robert Cecil, Hakluyt’s patron. The dedication strongly encourages Cecil to use his influence to colonize Virginia as soon as possible. A few copies of the set also include a rare map based on the principles of Edward Wright. Hakluyt’s great opus is considered by many scholars and cartographers to be the standard for the era in which it was written.

Hakluyt was also one of the major forces in founding the Charter of the Virginia Company of London in 1589. He was one of the chief proponents of a petition presented to King James I for letters patent to create a colony in Virginia. Scottish historian William Robertson wrote that, "England is more indebted [to Hakluyt] for its American possessions than to any man of that age."

Hakluyt’s enthusiasm for Virginia also influenced the literature of the seventeenth century. Shakespeare and other authors took inspiration from Hakluyt’s ideas of building a new civilization in a New World.

Hakluyt married twice, and over his lifetime gathered a small fortune, which was unfortunately squandered by his only son. Hakluyt died in November 1616 and was buried that same month in Westminster Abbey.

Image: Hakluyt depicted in stained glass in the West Window of the South Transept of Bristol Cathedral, Charles Eamer Kempe, c. 1905.

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