The origin of the names Beguine and Beghard has been the subject of much controversy.
The Beguine communities were fruitful soil for the missionary enterprise of the friars, and in the course of the 13th century the communities in France, Germany and upper Italy had fallen under the influence of the Dominicans and Franciscans to such an extent that in the Latin-speaking countries the tertiaries of these orders were commonly called beguini and beguinae.
The very looseness of their organization, indeed, made it inevitable that the Beguine associations should follow very diverse developments.
The earliest Flemish Beghard communities were associations mainly of artisans who earned ' In the year 1287 the council of Liege decreed that "all Beguinae desiring to enjoy the Beguine privileges shall enter a Beguinage, and we order that all who remain outside the Beguinage shall wear a dress to distinguish them from the Beguinae."
The decrees were put into execution by Pope John XXII., and a persecution raged in which, though the pope expressly protected the female Beguine communities of the Netherlands, there was little discrimination between the orthodox and unorthodox Beguines.
This led to the utmost confusion, the laity in many cases taking the part of the Beguine communities, and the Church being thus brought into conflict with the secular authorities.