Stories from History: Defenestrations of Prague

Tossing people out windows is so nice, they went and did it Twice

Remember, these stories are mostly true, if history cooperates.

Defenestration is one of those very strange and specific words. If you haven’t already learned it, I relish this opportunity to teach you this word. It means to throw someone out of a window. How bizarre is that – a specific word for the act of throwing someone out a window. It is likely that few people have pondered on it as they flew through the air, towards their final and abrupt stop.

There were two incidents in history that have been called the Defenestration of Prague. The first incident took place in 1439, when a mob of Hussites stormed the new town hall in Prague in an effort to free their allies. During this action, they threw several city councillors out the windows, the fall killing them, or the mob dispatching them. Depending on the sources, I’ve seen it written that there were anywhere from seven to thirteen people thrown out the windows to their deaths.

They had not planned to attack the city hall, instead had only been on a march in protest of the refusal to exchange prisoners by those in control of the city. While they marched, a stone was thrown from a window of city hall. This enraged the mob, and whether it was the design of their leaders or not, they were quickly whipped into a frenzy. 

It was from these actions that the Hussite Wars began. Wars broke out quickly afterwards, lasting until 1436.

But wait, there’s more!

That’s right – as though some strange spirit inhabited the city of Prague, or a strange god of broken windows, there was a second defenestration.

Leading up to 1618 there were still ongoing religious tensions across the Holy Roman Empire, and what was then Bohemia. Mostly recently, there were problems with the head of the country appointing a new heir, one that was decidedly counter-reformation. The other was the cessation of the construction of Protestant churches upon royal lands.

The three Protestant Lord Regents of Prague met the morning of May 23, 1618. It was a spring morning, but history has not recorded what the weather was like. They wanted to discuss whether the Catholic Lord Regents of the city were involved in these changes. Tensions rose as they argued over the topic, and the Catholic Regents eventually were “found guilty”. A crowd of Protestants gathered and before long two of the Catholic Regents and their secretary were thrown from the windows.

They survived the three-story fall though. Catholics claimed this was proof of the divinity of their cause – was evidence of the interference by angels of the Virgin Mary. Protestants, however, claimed that it was because they fell upon the dung heap. History has lost the validity of this particular detail.

So, if you ever go to Prague, don’t get in religious arguments near a window.

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