Frere was born in Cambridge, England, on 23 November 1863, the younger son of Philip Howard Frere and his wife Emily, née Gipps. His siblings were Arthur, Ellen and Lucy. Lucy became the wife of Wilfred J. Barnes. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and Wells Theological College; and ordained in 1889. His first post was as a curate at Stepney Parish Church. He was Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Southwark from 1896 to 1909.
Frere assisted the Indian Syro-Malankara church with the foundation of the Bethany religious order in 1919: however the dioceses forming this church were received into the Roman Catholic communion in 1930.
He was a member of the Anglican delegation to the Malines Conversations in the 1920s, and active in various other ecumenical projects including relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. He was a noted liturgical historical scholar; he was also a high churchman and a supporter of Catholic ideas. In his early writings and addresses he emphasised the importance of spiritual life, and explained some of the liturgical revision which was then in preparation.
Frere was twice Superior of the order 1902–1913 and 1916–1922, and returned to it after resigning the see of Truro. He was consecrated bishop in Westminster Abbey on 1 November 1923, and as he regarded membership of a religious order an obligation taking precedence over others, the bishop's palace became a branch house of the Community.
He died on 2 April 1938 and was buried at Mirfield.