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The Beguines of Medieval Paris

Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority

By Tanya Stabler Miller

Publication Year: 2014

In the thirteenth century, Paris was the largest city in Western Europe, the royal capital of France, and the seat of one of Europe's most important universities. In this vibrant and cosmopolitan city, the beguines, women who wished to devote their lives to Christian ideals without taking formal vows, enjoyed a level of patronage and esteem that was uncommon among like communities elsewhere. Some Parisian beguines owned shops and played a vital role in the city's textile industry and economy. French royals and nobles financially supported the beguinages, and university clerics looked to the beguines for inspiration in their pedagogical endeavors. The Beguines of Medieval Paris examines these religious communities and their direct participation in the city's commercial, intellectual, and religious life.

Drawing on an array of sources, including sermons, religious literature, tax rolls, and royal account books, Tanya Stabler Miller contextualizes the history of Parisian beguines within a spectrum of lay religious activity and theological controversy. She examines the impact of women on the construction of medieval clerical identity, the valuation of women's voices and activities, and the surprising ways in which local networks and legal structures permitted women to continue to identify as beguines long after a church council prohibited the beguine status. Based on intensive archival research, The Beguines of Medieval Paris makes an original contribution to the history of female religiosity and labor, university politics and intellectual debates, royal piety, and the central place of Paris in the commerce and culture of medieval Europe.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-13

Not long after returning from his first crusade in 1254, Louis IX (r. 1226–1270) founded a house on the eastern end of Paris for “honest women who are called beguines.”1 Prior to gaining this royal recognition and patronage, beguines— lay religious women who took personal, informal vows of chastity and pursued...

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Chapter 1. The Prud'homme and the Beguines: Louis IX and the Foundation of the Beguinage of Paris

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pp. 14-34

By the mid-thirteenth century Paris was home to an increasingly visible population of religious women who lived in a manner that earned them the label beguinae. In the early 1250s, the secular cleric William of Saint-Amour (d. 1272) complained of “young women who are called beguines,” lamenting...

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Chapter 2. The World of the Beguinage

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pp. 35-58

When Louis IX commissioned the building of a court beguinage on the eastern end of the city, Paris was already home to a recognizable community of lay religious women. Although little is known about the first few years of the beguinage’s existence, Louis’s foundation clearly resonated with the social...

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Chapter 3. Beguines, Silk, and the City

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pp. 59-80

Sometime before 1292, Jeanne du Faut left her home in the Paris beguinage to take up residence on the rue Troussevache, a street dominated by wealthy mercers and located at the center of Paris’s silk-producing sector. Although her reasons for leaving the beguinage are not known, she left in good standing...

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Chapter 4. Masters and Pastors: Sorbonne Scholars, Beguines, and Religious Instruction

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pp. 81-102

At his death in 1306 the secular theologian Pierre of Limoges bequeathed his personal library—about 120 manuscripts—to the college of the Sorbonne. Pierre had been a student at the Sorbonne, a college for secular clerics studying theology, and an admirer of its founder, Robert of Sorbon. Pierre’s donation...

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Chapter 5. Religious Education and Spiritual Collaboration at the Beguinage of Paris

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pp. 103-125

Robert of Sorbon’s exemplum about the beguine who travels to Paris from Cambrai to acquire a copy of the Summa of Vices and Virtues lauds the informal means by which beguines engaged in religious instruction, taking for granted that a beguine might travel from one region to another circulating...

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Chapter 6. “There Are Among Us Women Called Beguines”

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pp. 126-144

Robert of Sorbon deployed the image of the beguine in support of his pastoral agenda, presenting beguines as worthy models for university clerics by emphasizing their zeal for souls, active lay ministry, and humility. According to Robert, it was the beguine’s actions (namely, exhortation of her fellow...

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Chapter 7. The King’s Beguines

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pp. 145-172

Even as church authorities condemned the beguine status at the Council of Vienne in 1311–1312, the French kings took charge of rehabilitating the reputation of the beguinage, calling attention to the community’s sainted founder and tying their own support of the beguines to their place in this saintly line...

Appendix. Beguines Whose Occupations Are Known

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pp. 173-174


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pp. 175-256


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pp. 257-276


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pp. 277-290

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pp. 291-293

It is a pleasure to thank the many people who generously gave their time, advice, and encouragement throughout the process of researching and writing this book. My greatest debt is to Sharon Farmer, who gently pushed me to explore new approaches, sources, and interpretations, generously shared her research...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209686
E-ISBN-10: 0812209680
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812246070

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 8 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 878130546
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Beguines of Medieval Paris

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Subject Headings

  • Monastic and religious life of women -- France -- Paris -- History -- To 1500.
  • Beguines -- France -- Paris -- History -- To 1500.
  • Women in Christianity -- France -- Paris -- History -- To 1500.
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