Case Studies - Beguinages - The Netherlands

Beguinage of the Grey Beguines of Leeuwarden (Het klooster van de Grauwe Bagijnen van Leeuwarden)


Type of institution for collective action


Name/description institution  

Beguinage of the grey beguines of Leeuwarden (Het klooster van de Grauwe Bagijnen van Leeuwarden)


The Netherlands


Province of Friesland

Name of city or specified area 


Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

At the time the beguinage was fist mentioned as such (1451), the beguinage was  located outside the city walls of Leeuwarden at a place called Galilea, located along the river Ee. The image beneath shows the former location of the convent, north of the city.


City plan of Leeuwarden, by Jacob van Deventer (1579). The former location of the beguinage (Oud Galileeën) can be seen north of the city.



From about 1510 onwards the St. Anne’s convent (Sint-Annaklooster) was moved inside the city walls. The exact location of the new beguinage was the plot between the Bagijnestraat, the Sint Anthonystraat and the Diept – a waterway.

Patron saint

From the time the beguinage was located within the city walls – around 1510 – the patron saint of the beguines became Saint Anne, hence the name of their convent. According to Mol (1992), the patron saint before the move of the convent was St. Francis. 

Surface area and boundaries

The terrain was quite big, but the exact parameters are unknown. The actual buildings that the beguines inhabited were placed largely on the Bagijnestraat – the south side.


Click for larger sample

City map of Leeuwarden, made by Johannes Sems (2003). The former location of the beguinage of St. Anne is indicated by the red lines.

Source: Wikimedia Commons, click here for data on source; location based on Mol (1992).


The image above shows a reconstruction of the former terrain – marked in red – of the St. Anne’s convent within the city.


Foundation/start of institution, date or year

Thirteenth/fourteenth century.

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

It is not quite clear when the first beguines settled themselves in the area of Leeuwarden. There is already a mention of begghin[ae] in a charter made up in 1285; whether this were actual beguines or tertiary sisters is not clear. The first explicit mentioning of the existence of a beguinage in the Leeuwarden area is in a document, dated April 18, 1451.

Foundation act present?


Description of Act of foundation


Year of termination of institution


Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

Confirmed, see beneath.

Act regarding termination present?



Description Act of termination

On May 18, 1582, Frans of Anjou confirmed by grant the decision of the municipal government of Leeuwarden, meaning that the real estate and income of the three convents in the city – that of the Jacobeans, of the "white nuns", and of the "grey beguines" – would fall to the custodians of the Hospital of St. Anthony (St. Anthonygasthuis), of the municipal poor relief (huisarmen) and the orphanage (weeshuis), because of the reformatory policy, on the conditions that the inhabitants of the convents would be supported for life. Included in the original document is a list of possessions of the beguinage of St. Anne’s.

Reason for termination?


Recognized by local government?

Yes, the beguinage was recognized by the local government. In fact, there is some debate whether beguines had a privileged position within society: the textile guilds in Leeuwarden certainly seemed to think they did. The guild charters and the representatives in the city council displayed deep suspicion against the sisters of St. Anne’s and pressed for measures against unfair competition.

Concise history of institution

The beguinage of the grey beguines of Leeuwarden is one of the beguinages of which it is not quite clear whether it was a beguinage in the strict sense of the word or that it was rather more a convent of tertiaries: sisters living in accrodance with the Third Rule of Saint Francis. Although the composition and management of the beguinage seems to indicate in favour of the latter option, the first written sources referring to the inhabitants of the beguinage explicitly mention them as beghuinae rather than as moniales, which latter term was more common for  the inhabitants of monasteries.


In 1451, for the first time the existence of a community of beguines in the area of Leeuwarden is mentioned. The convent was then located outside of the city; their former habitat was called Galilea, and was located along the river Ee. The moving of the beguinage to within the city walls was ordered by the duke of Saxony: the location of the convent formed a strategic risk, because enemies who wanted to besiege Leeuwarden could use it as a hide-out. With the moving inside the city walls the beguinage also was renamed: from then on it was named Sint-Annaklooster. Saint Anne supposedly was a popular saint around that time, and this could explain the choice of a new patron.


At the head of the beguines' worldly affairs was the mater, who was assisted by the ministra and the procuratrix (for business affairs). The spiritual practices were guided by a pater. A distinct feature of the St. Anne’s beguinage was that the beguines shared all their living areas; it did not, therefore, possess the well known feature of a courtyard with almshouses, as was the case in many other beguinages.


The ladies of St. Anne’s earned their living by yarning and weaving. This made them quite unpopular with other members of the textile industry in Leeuwarden, namely the craft guilds.  A charter made up by the linen and wool weaver’s guild in 1482 proves this: the members of the guild were forbidden to conduct any business with the ladies, and there could not be any outsourcing of labour.


Besides handicrafts the beguinage of st. Anne’s gained income from gifts from devout members of the community, and from the income of sisters with worldly assets. Also the beguinage had in its possession a fair share of real estate.


The Reformation had a large impact on the development of the beguinage from around 1530 onwards. For one, the income of the convent slowly decreased, because the beguinage as a whole received fewer inheritances: inheritances were more frequently made to individual beguines. Also, the number of beguines that joined the convent diminished; hence there was less income from admission fees. Secondly, the service of prayer diminished in importance. Since part of the income of the beguinage originated from paid prayer services for the deceased, this source of income subsequently became less and less important.


At the time of dissolution, the beguinage consisted of only a pater, his second, a mater, and fourteen sisters.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

  • 1285: First mentioning of beguines (begghin[ae]) in the Leeuwarden area; the document however provides no information about where and how exactly these beguines were living.
  • 1498/99: During military operations in and around Leeuwarden the duke of Saxony used the beguinage, at that time was still located outside the city. This made him realize how vulnerable the convent was for a hostile take-over: this set the way for the moving of the convent to a location inside the city walls.
  • 1511: A specific peak moment for the members of the convent was the survival of the convent from a major city fire. The fact that the convent was saved from the flames was attributed to the miraculous powers of St. Anne.
  • 1505: On April 12, 1505 Anscke Auckama entered the convent. She was a member of a very important patrician family within the city of Leeuwarden. Her entrance into the convent meant a significant increase of income for the convent. Besides this financial aspect, the entering of a respectable patrician daughter into the convent meant an upgrade in social status for the convent.
  • 1582: The municipal government of Leeuwarden decided to dissolve the beguinage, which was approved of by a grant, dated May 18, 1582, by Frans of Anjou.


Numbers of members (specified)

It is difficult to determine the exact numbers of beguines during the years of existence of St. Anne’s convent. Mol (1992) estimates that during the peak period of the convent – the pre-reformatory period – the probable number of sisters would have been between 40 and 60. The fact that two other female convents were built in the city of Leeuwarden during the beginning of the sixteenth century suggest that convents were quite popular. When reformatory thoughts spread though, the convents became less and less popular; when the beguinage was dissolved in 1582 only fifteen beguines were left.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

The literature available states clear that the relationship between the social position of the sisters in a convent and the way in which a convent was led – by a male or female – was very significant. Women from higher status would enjoy a greater deal of legitimacy to govern themselves. In any case, the beguinage of St. Anne’s – aside from the joining of Anscke Auckama – did not seem to attract a very élite-like public. The beguinage probably mostly attracted women from nearby areas who were from a lower rank of society. To enter a beguinage an admission fee was not required, though very welcome. This way, beguinages were open to women from all classes. This made the conventual life available for women of lower ranks of society.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

The requirements for entering the convent were set out along the lines of the Third Rule of St. Francis. The beguines lived a life that was somewhere between the secular and the sacred. They did take vows, but not all the vows a member of the first or second order would take:.

  • the beguines did vow to be obedient to their mater and pater and to the rules of their convent;
  • they also had to take a vow of chastity;
  • although they did not make a vow of poverty, the beguines did have to give all their income to a mutual fund.  

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

None mentioned.

Advantages of membership?

  • The vows of the beguines were first and foremost not obsolete; they could get out of the convent if they wanted to. This way the entering of a beguinage was a less permanent commitment than entering a convent of the second rule of St. Francis.
  • Moreover, it offered a sober but secure livelihood for many common daughters.
  • For daughters of richer families, the beguinage offered a favorable option over other convents: the property of the beguines remained their own; this meant that, if they came to pass, the property would be returned to the family estate. 

Obligations of members? 

  • As mentioned above, some vows had to be taken to enter a beguinage.
  • The beguines of St. Anne’s supposedly went in full clausura from around 1470 onwards; this meant that there was a distinction made between enclosed and outgoing sisters.

Literature on case study

  • Mol, J.A., 1992. De Grauwe Bagijnen van Leeuwarden. Leeuwarder Historische Reeks 3,  p.61-106.
  • Mol, J.A., 1993.  Begijnen in middeleeuws Leeuwarden: enkele nieuwe gegevens. Leeuwarder Historische Reeks 4, p.36-9.
  • Schuur, R.G., 1979. Leeuwarden voor 1435. Een poging tot reconstructie van de oudste stadsgeschiedenis. Zutphen : Walburg Pers.

Sources on case study

  • Municipal Archive Leeuwarden (Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden)
    • Archief Gilden en Beurzen c.a. te Leeuwaren, toegang 7
      • 1: Zestiende eeuwse afschriften van reglementen en gilderollen van het weversgilde uit de jaren 1482-1518
    • Archief Sint Anthony Gasthuis I, toegang 263:
      • 1057: Acte van scheiding van de zathe te Hylaard, 'Sickinga' genaamd, tusschen de gasthuisvoogden, Ulbe van Aylva en Jan Wissema, waarbij het gasthuis het 1/4 ged. min twee pdmt., d.i. 15 pdmt., afkomstig van de goederen van het St. Anna-klooster der Grauwe Bagijnen, ontvangt, 1592.
      • 1340: Octrooi van Frans van Anjou tot bevestiging van het besluit van burgemeesteren, schepenen en raden van Leeuwarden van 9 April 1582, waarbij de baten en lasten der drie kloosters te dezer stede, die der Jacobijnen, der Witte Nonnen en der Grauwe Bagijnen, welke bij de invoering der Hervorming aan de stad waren vervallen, worden overgedragen aan de voogden van het St. Anthony-Gasthuis, de voogden der Huisarmen en de voogden van het Weeshuis, ieder voor 1/3 gedeelte, 1582.

Links to further information on case study:

Case study composed by

Winny Bierman, Student Assistant