“In the Manner of the Beguines”: Regulating Beguine Life in the Low Countries, 1200-1600
De Vries, Jennifer Erika
Leonard, Amy E.
My dissertation examines normative sources for beguine communities. Beguines were participants in a female religious movement that developed through the Late Middle Ages and into the sixteenth century in the Low Countries and elsewhere. They were semi-regular – a combination of lay and religious life. Historians often define beguines in opposition to the lifestyle of traditional, enclosed nuns: their vows were not permanent, and the Church hierarchy did not consider them to be an order that followed an “approved” rule. Beguinages were an expression of lay women’s desire for a pious but active lifestyle. This ambiguity was often uncomfortable to outsiders and thus criticized. Yet beguines were ubiquitous in the medieval and early modern Low Countries (the geographical focus of this dissertation) and continued to remain a popular life choice for women despite threats from church councils and insinuations of heresy. Beguines did, however, follow rules and statutes – ones approved by local authorities such as parish or city councils or the nobility. This dissertation focuses on statutes for twelve beguinages and situates them within their larger context in the late medieval and early modern Low Countries. The statutes discussed various aspects of a beguine’s life, from her clothing to her behavior in church and other public places. The statutes for beguine communities also helped to set the boundaries and characteristics of their lifestyle. A closer look at these sources reveals much, such as the beguines’ attitudes towards relationships with men, the significance of physical appearances, the physical spaces of the beguinage, the importance of religious devotion, and beguines’ interactions with and economic activities in their local town. These statutes demonstrate how beguines in general, and twelve beguinages in particular, negotiated a place for themselves within medieval society. Beguines balanced medieval gender norms with their characteristic independence to maintain a socially unthreatening posture. They occupied an ambiguous place at the intersection of lay and religious; their statutes codified their lifestyle and, crucially, presented a socially acceptable path in between. The findings of this dissertation provide greater nuance to our interpretation of beguines and revise and clarify the current historiographical understanding of beguines.
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“In the Manner of the Beguines”: Regulating Beguine Life in the Low Countries, 1200-1600 De Vries, Jennifer Erika (Georgetown University, 2021)My dissertation examines normative sources for beguine communities. Beguines were participants in a female religious movement that developed through the Late Middle Ages and into the sixteenth century in the Low Countries ...