Beghards. I. The popular appellation of a body of religious penitents of the third order of St. Francis of the congregation of Zepperen. They were founded at the convent of Zepperen in the diocese of Liege prior to 1323, and several other houses soon grew up. They were almost all lay brothers, living in community, and carrying on some trade, as weaving, spectacle-making, etc. Having few priests in the order, they were at first all governed by a superior general, who was a secular priest till Pope Nicholas V. directed that he should always be a Franciscan. These Franciscan ter-tiaries incorporated into their body a community founded at Antwerp in 1228 and called Beghards, a name of uncertain derivation. The Franciscan rule and habit were adopted, and the name Beghards was given to the whole body. Difficulties having arisen between the priests and lay brothers, they separated for a time, but were finally reunited under one general. In 1651 the whole body was incorporated by Innocent X. with the congregation of Lombardy. There were similar houses in other parts of the Low Countries, some of which also took the name of Beghards. II. A set of fanatics, also called Spiritualists, who arose in the 13th century in the Low Countries, and assumed the dress and name of the Franciscan tertiaries, but refused to obey any ecclesiastical authority.

A number of enthusiasts of both sexes joined them, and adopting the reveries of Abbot Joachim, they spread in France, Germany, and Italy, creating great disturbances. They were also called Beguins and Beguines. They were condemned in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII., and by Clement V. in the council of Vienne.