Single, safe, and sorry? An analysis of the motivations of women to join the early modern beguine movement in the Low Countries
The beguine movement is in many ways one of the most remarkable movements in the history of the Low Countries; the impetus for the movement as a whole still remains to be explained. Factors such as the sex-ratio, diminished access to convents, and the religious revival of the late Middle Ages have been put forward, but remain insufficient to explain the specificity of the movement and its popularity in the long run. In many ways, the beguine movement stands out as different from other female organisations or religious movements. The question then arises why this was possible and whether the local conditions of the Low Countries had something to do with it. In this paper, I argue that the specific attitude towards women in the Low Countries that is reflected in their wages, as well as their level of human capital, and labour market participation created a fertile basis for the beguinages to develop: the beguinages may have offered women in the Low Countries – who enjoyed an exceptional “liberated” position regarding social and financial independence, the origins of this position lying in the emergence of the European Marriage Pattern (EMP) – safety and security in case they chose to remain single.