An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery: The Defenestrations of Prague

Posted on July 30, 2013


No, not the nu metal band.

Defenestration is the art of throwing someone or something out of the window. Why it is an art I’m not sure, but the description will have to remain for the time being. History is not particularly littered with famous defenestrations. Indeed, a cursory search for notable ones leads not to an individual being thrown, but more clumsiness or lax balance on behalf of the defenestrated. There are two incidents of defenestration from the land of the Slavs however, that played a large role in shaping the history of that land. The country is the Czech Republic, and together the incidents are known as the ‘Defenestrations of Prague’.

Despite being almost 200  years apart (199 to be exact), both defenestrations had at their hearts the battle for sovereignty in the Czech lands. More to the point, the conflict between the Catholic Church and Protestants was the major beef. Ironically, the Czechs have the second lowest percentage of religious believers in Europe today. The first defenestration happened to seven poor buggers in 1419, and the second to three luckier chaps in 1618. On both occasions, misery for the Czech people was to ensure shortly after.

On the 30th of July 1419, Jan Zelivsky led his congregation through the streets of Prague towards the Town Hall. They were outraged. Zelivsky was something of a radical Hussite preacher, and his influence had been growing ever steadily larger with each inflamed outcry. The state of Bohemia was an extremely tense place at the time, due to the increasingly corrupt actions of the Catholic Church. Jan Hus, a philosopher and religious reformer, had recently been executed for refusing to take back his criticisms of the church, and his followers didn’t take this too well. Hus wasn’t an atheist of any sort though, far from it, he was as god fearing as they come. His main beef was that the pope was living too lavish a lifestyle, and he was right. His life was lost in attempts to reform the church, but the touchpaper had been lit, and the cows were about to come home to roost.

Which leads us to the 30th of July. The town council was holding a number of Hussites prisoner, and the congregation was heading to attempt to secure their release. The town council refused, and the mob were at a loss. Their loss was ended though when a stone was thrown from a town hall window, clonking ol’ Zelivsky on the noggin’. Turd, meet fan. The mob were enraged, and they stormed the town hall. The town judge, burgomaster and five others were accosted and swiftly dispatched through the window. They all died either from the fall or the murderous violence of the mob below. Either way, not pleasant. These defenestrations would change the mood from one of negotiating to one of action, and the Hussite wars would begin shortly after. They would rage on until 1436.

199 years later on the 23rd of May, 1618, history would repeat itself. Sort of. The build up here sat on similar issues, as the year previous Catholic officials had ordered the immediate stopping of the building of protestant chapels, claiming they owned the land. The protestants complained, saying the land belonged to the king and the cessation was an abuse of their rights. This argument was soon made null and void by newly elected Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand of Styria, who stripped the protestants of all their rights. Thus the 30 years way began.

In between the stopping of the building and the stripping of the rights however, was another little bit of window tossing. Four catholic lords were to arrive at the Bohemian chancellery to defend Ferdinand’s decision to stop the building of the chapels. Obviously, their defence was going to be rejected regardless, but they went ahead nonetheless. Believe it or not, two of the lords were declared innocent of any wrong-doing. The other two however, were immediately put on trial for violating the Right of Freedom of Religion, and upon guilt being assumed were chucked out of the nearest window. Their scribe went with them, presumably in a fit of defenestration madness. Death did not hit the three gentleman however, and as legend has it their fall was broken by a large pile of horse manure. Nice. The catholic church was quick to say they were saved by angels, but if you genuinely believe in the existence of winged angels, I’m sorry. The reality is they were probably saved by their big coats and the uneven castle walls breaking their fall into bits. Nice.

Either way, the Thirty Years War would begin and the Czechs would be decisively crushed. So, the morale of the story is thus: If you are miffed about something, don’t throw Catholics out of the window, because they will murder your people.