Hanmer, Meredith (1543–1604), cleric and historian, was born at Porkington, Shropshire, England, son of Thomas Hanmer. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was appointed to a chaplaincy in 1567. He graduated BA (November 1568) and MA (April 1571). In the 1570s he both ministered successively in Surrey, Cheshire and Flintshire and continued his Oxford career, being conferred BD (July 1581), and DD (July 1582). His studies during this period were chiefly concerned with the early history of the church and they equipped him to play a part in the defence of the 1559 ecclesiastical settlement, then under attack from catholic academics, many of whom, though resident on the Continent, had formerly held positions in Oxford.
Much of the debate turned on the interpretation of texts and their authenticity, and in 1577 Hanmer contributed to the debate by publishing translations of the linked ecclesiastical histories of Eusebius, Evagrius and Socrates, covering the first six centuries and underlining the subsequent degeneration. The work was dedicated to Elizabeth, countess of Lincoln. Hanmer was described as a nobleman’s chaplain in 1575, and it is probable that Lincoln was his patron: the countess was Elizabeth FitzGerald (qv), daughter of Gerald FitGerald, 9th earl of Kildare (qv). The Jesuit mission prompted Hanmer to rise again to the defence of the church, in a more demotic style. In 1581 he published The great bragge and challenge of M. Champion a Jesuite and The Jesuites banner.
He married Mary Austin at Shoreditch, London, on 21 June 1581 and in the following December he was appointed vicar of St Leonard's in Shoreditch. In November 1583 he was also appointed vicar of Islington. He published a new edition of the Ecclesiastical History in 1585 and A sermon on the baptising of the Turk in 1586, but his ministry was marred by scandal. In Shoreditch he outraged his parishioners by taking the brass off several monuments and converting it into coin. He appeared in 1584 as a witness in a case arising from the circulation of a libel that the queen was pregnant with the earl of Shrewsbury's child. The recorder of London, Fleetwood, said that Hanmer had ‘dealt lewdly’ with Shrewsbury and added that he was ‘a very bad man’ who had disregarded his oath (Strype, Annals, iii, 216–7). In the consistorial acts of the diocese of Rochester (1588–90) he was recorded as having married a couple without banns or license.
It may have been ill repute that prompted Hanmer to move to Ireland in 1591. There he was successful in gaining the patronage of the earl of Ormond (qv) and acquired a succession of posts. He was appointed archdeacon of Ross in 1591; treasurer of Waterford cathedral in 1593; vicar-choral of Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, in 1594; prebendary of St Michan's, Dublin, and rector of the Blessed Virgin Mary de Borages in Leighlin in 1595; vicar of the parishes of Muckally, Rathpatrick, and Kilbeacon and Killaghy in Co. Kilkenny in 1598; and warden of the new college at Youghal in 1599. He resigned this position and his prebend of St Michan's in 1602, and on 16 June 1603 he was appointed chancellor of Ossory, vicar of Fiddown in Kilkenny, and rector of Aglish-Martin in north Waterford.
In spite of his many appointments, Hanmer's professional ministrations appear to have been almost wholly confined to the army throughout the Nine Years War. He was employed as an army chaplain successively by Sir John Norris (qv), lord president of Munster, Sir William Russell (qv), lord deputy, and the earl of Ormond. Both Norris and Ormond commended him for his learning and his preaching and Ormond proposed his appointment as bishop of Down in 1600. There are indications that he was being used by Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's chief minister, as an informant on the state of the war and he was deeply suspicious of the connivance in puritan practice of Archbishop Loftus (qv), Lord Deputy Russell and others.
His spare time was spent in recording miscellaneous information about Irish customs and manners, including material in Gaelic and indecent popular verse, and, increasingly, in investigating and collecting Irish antiquities. This interest developed into a detailed study of early Irish history in which Hanmer subjected the evidence to critical examination and attempted to distinguish fact from fiction. Under the title Chronicle of Ireland, it was published by Sir John Ware in 1633.
Hanmer's interest in religious controversy continued, and about 1600 he met and briefly debated with the Jesuit apologist Henry Fitzsimon (qv), who was imprisoned in Dublin castle. Afterwards he gave Fitzsimon the use of his library and at one point supplied him with barrels of beer and flour. His respect, if such it was, was not returned: to Fitzsimon, Hanmer was a ‘poor, droll, jolly soul . . . entirely given to eating and drinking, jesting and scoffing’ (Fitzsimon, 60). Hanmer died in 1604, probably of the plague, and was buried in St Michan's church, Dublin. He was survived by four daughters, and also by his scholarly reputation: six editions of his Ecclesiastical History were published in the seventeenth century.