Most Beguines were women. The Beguines were an unusual religious movement in claiming no founder and operating with no specific rules for the order.
Some Beguines lived in beguinages, or communal residences. Others lived in their family homes. Still others lived independently. Some were itinerants.
The Roman Catholic Church's Fourth Lateran Council (1216) had ruled out the founding of any new religious orders, and the Second Council of Lyons found the Beguines in violation of this ruling. The Council of Vienna credited the Beguines with the "Free Spirit" heresy: reaching union with God and avoiding sin during earthly life.
Notable Beguines included Hadewijch of Antwerp, Marguerite Porete, and Mechtild of Magdeburg.
The term "Beguine" also came to be used for any women who lived as if in a religious order but without the authority of the church.