- probably Flemish: beghen, to pray
Communities of laymen founded in the Netherlands in the 12th century. Each community had a common purse, there was no private property, and all members dwelt under one roof. The members were of humble origin, usually weavers, dyers, fullers, etc., connected with the craft-guilds, through which they influenced the religious opinions of the middle-class Netherlanders for over two centuries. With the spread of the organization, abuses crept in and the Beghards took up the heresies of the Fraticelli, Apostolici, and Brethren of the Free Spirit. Censured by pope, bishops, and Inquisition, they remained obstinate. Many, however, were staunch and well-meaning and brought about a reform. Pope John XXII in 1321 allowed them to resume their former manner of living. With the diminution of the cloth trade they decreased and during the French Revolution they disappeared.