Numbers of Beghards joined the Brethren of the Cross, and the two sects were confounded in the rigorous persecution conducted in Germany by the inquisitor Eylard Schoneveld, who almost annihilated the flagellants.
The lay societies of the Beghards and the Beguines (for men and women respectively) date from the end of the 12th century, and soon became extremely popular both in the Low Countries and on the Rhine.
They were especially numerous in the Rhineland in the end of the 13th and during the 14th century; and they seem to have corrupted the originally orthodox communities of Beghards, for Beghards and Brethren of the Free Spirit are used henceforward as convertible terms, and the same immoralities are related of both.
This feature seemed a reflection on the mendicant orders, and the idea of a community life without vows and not in isolation from everyday life, was looked upon as something new and strange, and even as bearing affinities to the Beghards and other sects, at that time causing trouble to both Church and state.
In 1327 the opponents of the Beghards laid hold of certain propositions contained in Eckhart's works, and he was summoned before the Inquisition at Cologne.
Doubtless this coincidence gave a ready handle to the scoffing wits of the time, and among the numerous popular names given to the Beghards - bons garcons, boni pueri, boni valeti and the like - we find also that of Lollards (from Flemish liillen, " to stammer").
Matters came to a climax at the council of Vienne in 1311 under Pope Clement V., where the "sect of Beguines and Beghards" were accused of being the main instruments of the spread of heresy, and decrees were passed suppressing their organization and demanding their severe punishment.
They were Fraticelli, Beghards, Lollards or other confraternities unrecognized by the church and in steady opposition to her government.
Treatises on poverty appeared on every side; the party of Occam clamoured with increasing imperiousness for the condemnation of John by a general council; and the Spirituals, confounded in the persecution with the Beghards and with Fraticelli of every description, maintained themselves in the south of France in spite of the reign of terror instituted in that region by the Inquisition.
The word is much older than its English use; there were Lollards in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 14th century, who were akin to the Fratricelli, Beghards and other sectaries of the recusant Franciscan type.
The church chose to abide by the idea of Hildebrand and to reject that of Francis of Assisi; and the revolt of Ockham and the Franciscans, of the Beghards and other spiritual fraternities, of Wycliffe and the Lollards, were all protests against that decision.