Roslyn Frank (University of Iowa)
Overview of the Beguine Movement:May 25 (2007)
During the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the word beguine was used by women to identify themselves as members of a wide-spread and influential women’s movement. The same term was used by their detractors and overt opponents, with the highly charged negative meaning of “heretic.” The etymology of the term “beguine” and ultimate origins of the movement have never been satisfactorily explained.
Most investigations on the movement derive its origins from southwestern France connecting it to the Cathars. The tracks of the movement become increasingly difficult to follow as one moves back in time. Naturally, this is true of all medieval studies when one attempts to penetrate the so called Dark Ages. The dearth of written texts and general lack of coordinated studies, focused on specific towns and villages of this zone, make it extraordinarily difficult to determine with any accuracy a beginning date for the movement. Nonetheless, in this period, as soon as written sources become available, the Beguines are already present as a social group. The problem arises when one attempts to speculate on their status and extent during the early 9th and 10th centuries, periods for which no documentation is available concerning the activities of the popular classes. Indeed, the documentation for the movement is extremely sparse even in the 11th century.