He was sent in 1807 to school at Hradec Králové, to escape the conscription, then to the University of Prague, where he founded a society for the cultivation of the Czech language. At Vienna, where he afterwards studied law, he established a Czech periodical; and in 1813 he made the acquaintance of Josef Dobrovský, an eminent philologist.
On September 16 1817 Hanka claimed that he had discovered some manuscripts of 13th- and 14th-century Bohemian poems in the church tower of the town of Königinhof an der Elbe (Dvůr Králové nad Labem, both meaning Queen's Court at the Elbe in English) and later some more at Grünberg in Schlesien (Zelená Hora, Green mountain). The Manuscripts of Dvůr Králové and of Zelená Hora (Czech :Královédvorský Rukopis) were made public in 1818, with a German translation by Swoboda. The originals were presented by him to the Bohemian museum at Prague, of which he was appointed librarian in 1818.
Great doubt, however, was felt as to their genuineness, and Dobrovský, by pronouncing The Judgment of Libuše, another manuscript "found" by Hanka, to be an obvious fraud, confirmed the suspicion.
Some years afterwards Dobrovský saw fit to modify his decision, but modern Czech scholars regard the manuscript as a forgery. A translation into English, The Manuscript of the Queen's Court, was made by Wratislaw in 1852.
In 1848 Hanka, who was an ardent pan-Slavist, took part in the Slavonic congress and other peaceful national demonstrations, being the founder of the political society Slovanská Lípa. He was elected to the imperial diet at Vienna, but declined to take his seat. In the winter of 1848 he became lecturer and in 1849 professor of Slavonic languages in the university of Prague, where he died on the 12th of January 1861.
His chief works and editions are the following: