He was second son of the Rev. Robert Huntington, curate of Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, born in February 1636-7. His father was vicar of the adjoining parish of Leigh from 1648 till his death in 1664. Robert was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and in 1652 was admitted portionist at Merton College, Oxford, graduating B.A. on 9 March 1658, and M.A. on 21 Jan. 1662-3. As soon as the statutes of the college would allow, he was elected to a fellowship; he signed the decree of 1660, condemning all the proceedings of convocation under the commonwealth, and his possession of its emoluments was undisturbed.
At Oxford he applied himself to the study of oriental languages, and on the return of Robert Frampton he applied for his post of chaplain to the Levant Company at Aleppo, and was elected on 1 August 1670. In the following month he sailed, and arrived there in January 1671. Huntington remained in the Eastern Mediterranean for more than ten years, paying visits to Palestine, Cyprus, and Egypt, and acquiring rare manuscripts. His chief correspondents in England were Narcissus Marsh, John Fell, Edward Pocock, and Edward Bernard, and he made many purchases for Marsh and Fell. With the Samaritans of Nablus he began in 1671 a correspondence which was kept up between English and Samaritan scholars for many years. Henry Teonge visited Aleppo in 1676 and recorded Huntington's life there in his diary.
On 14 July 1681 he resigned his chaplaincy, returning through Italy and France, and settling once more at Merton College. He took the degrees of B.D. and D.D. (15 June 1683). Humphry Prideaux, himself eager for the Hebrew professorship, mentions Huntington as a probable competitor. Through the recommendation of Fell to Marsh he was offered the provostship of Trinity College, Dublin (1683), and accepted it. An Irish translation of the New Testament had already been printed, but Marsh and Huntington superintended a translation into the same language of the canonical books of the Old Testament, which was printed at the expense of Robert Boyle. In 1688 he fled from Ireland, but returned for a short time after the battle of the Boyne.
The bishopric of Kilmore, which was vacant through the refusal of William Sheridan to take the oaths of allegiance to the new ministry, was offered to him early in 1692, but declined, and as he preferred to live in England, he resigned his provostship (September 1692). In the same autumn (19 August 1692) Huntington was instituted, on the presentation of Sir Edward Turner, to the rectory of Great Hallingbury in Essex. He failed in October 1693 to obtain the wardenship of Merton College, and about the end of 1692 he married a daughter of John Powell, and a sister of Sir John Powell. He was consecrated bishop of Raphoe on 20 July 1701 at Dublin. Almost immediately afterwards he fell ill, and he died at Dublin on 2 September 1701, when he was buried near the door of Trinity College Chapel, and a marble monument was erected by the widow to his memory.
Works and legacy
Huntington's sole publication was a short paper in Philosophical Transactions' No. 161 (20 July 1684). Edward Bernard inscribed to him his paper on the chief fixed stars. Huntington gave to Merton College 14 oriental manuscripts, and to the Bodleian Library 35 more. A much larger number, 646 in all, was purchased from him in 1693 for the Bodleian at a cost of £700. Thomas Marshall, Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, and Dean of Gloucester, gave to the Bodleian in 1685 many manuscripts, including some Coptic copies of the gospels procured for him by Huntington, and Archbishop Marsh on his death in 1713 left to the same library many oriental manuscripts which he had acquired from Huntington. These manuscripts are described in Bernard's Catalogue (1697), and in the official catalogues of the Bodleian (1788–1835 and 1848–90). Huntington was also a liberal contributor of manuscripts to Trinity College, Dublin.