unmarried woman or widow living under the guidance of a grand mistress in a religious community

Perhaps after the Liège priest Lambert le Bègue (†1182).

Le Bègue founded the Beguine order around 1180. According to his biographer, he was rich and pious and had a church and small houses built on his estate, where women who had renounced marriage could live in peace: the first beguines.

He would have gained many supporters among the people, but many opponents among the nobility and the church. The beguines spread all over Europe, but especially in the Netherlands.

According to other studies, the word 'beguine' is derived from the color name beige, originally meaning the color of natural wool, ie gray or brown, colors worn by members of the poverty movements in the Middle Ages.

Because the movement was banned outside the Netherlands in 1311 because of heresy, it is sometimes thought that the word 'begijn' stems from 'beghinus', a popular distortion of 'albigensis', a name for the Cathar heretics.