This figure is one of a set of 50 dressed to represent the outfits worn by Catholic religious orders. They are made of tow (hemp) with wax heads, hands and feet. They were probably made in France, as they are labelled in French, but some of the orders represented were only active in Germany and the Netherlands.
This figure represents a Béguine. In the 1100s the priest Lambert de Bègue (d. 1177) preached that women should devote themselves to religious life without taking monastic vows. The women who followed this example became known as Béguines, devoting themselves to prayer and good works. Unlike nuns, they did not take vows nor renounce their property, and were free to leave the order at any time, such as to marry. If necessary, they supported themselves through manual labour or by teaching children. They lived in small, mutually supportive communities.
This figure wears a black tunic with a pleated bodice, a black apron, and a full length black veil with a double-wimple of white linen. On top of the veil, she wears a flat black hat which is similar to those worn by fashionable women in the eighteenth century.