The rejection of marriage is a recurring theme in the few vitae we have of beguines.* These were all women who, according to their biographers, fought to avoid marriage. Those who did not succeed usually persuaded their husbands to live chastely. To be fair, this desperation to avoid sex and marriage is a trope that appears frequently in many saintly narratives. The behaviour of beguines themselves, however, proves that this was no mere literary device, but a significant part of the way the beguines saw the world.
Many beguines left money for their female relatives in their wills on the condition that they decided not to marry and instead became beguines. In some cases they explicitly stated that it was to help said relative escape a marriage (with the implication that said marriage was a bad one) and come under the protection of the beguinage.
The communities as a whole and the secular authorities took steps to ensure that these women could remain unmarried as they wished. Many beguinages set up funds and found work for their members so they could support themselves. Court records give us the stories of beguines who were abducted with an eye to forcing them into marriage, the efforts that were made to free them, and the trials of the guilty parties.** In 1242, Countess Joan of Flanders ordered her aldermen and officers to protect beguines from anyone who would try to “put severe pressure on them, violently take them away from the beguines, or appropriate their goods.” Subsequent counts and countesses confirmed this order regularly for the next 200 years.
This is not to say that there was some stigma on beguines who did marry. These communities did, however, make an effort to ensure that women who were or wished to become beguines were not forced into wedlock. In this way they stayed independent, putting themselves at a slight remove from the secular world.
*All or almost all of the ones who got vitae about their lives eventually became nuns. None of them were ever officially canonized.
**Granted, it is likely that wealth came into play in a lot of these cases, with less effort being expended on poorer beguines. This is, however, pure speculation.
Simons, Walter. Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Devlin, Denis. "Feminine Lay Piety in the High Middle Ages: The Beguines." In Distant Echoes: Medieval Religious Women, edited by John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas Shank. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984.