Hakluyt, with a classical English education at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, was ordained in 1580. By 1602, he was made a prebendary of Westminster Abbey.
Described by Anthony Payne (DNB), as an editor, translator, and “encourager of geographical literature”, Hakluyt was involved in the publication of over twenty-five travel books. His most important work, and that for which he is best known, is The principal navigations, voiages, traffiques and discoveries of the English nation, made by sea or over-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth (1589), an exhaustive collection of voyages from the fourth century to the more recent adventures of Drake and Cavendish, both dedicated to and licensed for publication by Francis Walsingham.
Inspired, and influenced, by his cousin, also Richard Hakluyt, the younger Hakluyt pursued his passionate interest in “whatsoever printed or written discoveries and voyages” he found extant “in Greeke, Latine, Italian, Spanish, Portugall, French, or English”, at university. The earliest travel account associated with Hakluyt, John Florio’s translation of Jacques Cartier’s Shorte … Narration of French discoveries in America, was published with Hakluyt’s assistance in 1580. Hakluyt’s own first book, Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America (1582), coincided with Humphry Gilbert’s quest for investors in his own North American venture. In time, he came to the attention of Sir Francis Walsingham, who was his first “patron”, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and Walter Ralegh. The latter encouraged Hakluyt to present to the queen his Discourse of western planting (1584), which also proposed some ambitious colonial projects in North America.
For all his wanderlust, Hakluyt’s only known venture abroad was to the embassy in Paris, where he met the French royal cosmographer, André Thevet, who lent him René Goulaine de Laudonnière’s manuscript for L’Histoire notable de la Floride, printed in 1586 at Hakluyt’s expense and in 1587 in an English translation by Hakluyt. He published a new edition, in the original Latin, of De orbe novo … decades octo (1587) by Peter Martyr; it was through Hakluyt’s intercession that Theodor de Bry published Thomas Harriot’s Briefe … Report of Ralegh’s Virginia colony, (1590); John Pory’s English edition of Leo Africanus’s Geographical Historie of Africa (1600), appeared with Hakluyt’s commendation; Hakluyt’s own translation of Antonio Galvão’s Discoveries of the World and The Journall … of Jacob Corneliszen Neck, translated at Hakluyt’s persuasion to assist East Indian voyagers, both appeared in 1601; and Virginia Richly Valued, translated by Hakluyt, in 1609. Hakluyt had advised the East India Company, and invested in the Virginia Company.
After Walsingham’s death in 1590, Hakluyt came within the orbit of secretary of state Sir Robert Cecil, to whom he dedicated volumes two and three of the second edition of the Principal Navigations.
Hakluyt’s natural successor was Samuel Purchas, whose Hakluytus Posthumus, or, Purchas his Pilgrimes(1625), based on Hakluyt’s papers, obtained by Purchas after about 1616, when Hakluyt died.