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The Defenestrations of Prague were two incidents in the history of Bohemia. The first occurred in 1419 and the second in 1618, although the term "Defenestration of Prague" is more commonly used to refer to the latter incident. Both helped to trigger prolonged conflict within Bohemia and beyond. Defenestration is the act of throwing someone out of a window (from the Latin: de: out of, with a downward motion implied; fenestra: window).

Contents

First Defenestration of Prague

The First Defenestration of Prague involved the killing of seven members of the city council by a crowd of radical Czech Hussites on July 30, 1419.

Jan Želivský, a Hussite priest at the church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, led his congregation on a procession through the streets of Prague to the Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) on Charles Square. The town council members had refused to exchange their Hussite prisoners. While they were marching, a stone was thrown at Želivský from the window of the town hall.[1] The mob became enraged at this event and, led by Jan Žižka, stormed the town hall. Once inside the hall, the group threw the judge, the burgomaster, and some thirteen members of the town council out of the window and into the street, where they were killed by the fall or dispatched by the mob.[1]

King Václav IV (Wenceslaus in English, Wenzel in German), upon hearing this news, was so stunned that he died a little time after, supposedly due to the shock.[1]

The procession was a result of the growing discontent at the inequality between the peasants and the contemporary direction of the Church, the Church's prelates, and the nobility. This discontentment combined with rising feelings of nationalism and increased the influence of radical preachers such as Jan Želivský, influenced by Wycliff, who saw the current state of the Catholic Church as corrupt. These preachers urged their congregations to action, including taking up arms, to combat these perceived transgressions.

The First Defenestration was thus the turning point between talk and action leading to the prolonged Hussite Wars. The wars broke out shortly afterward and lasted until 1436.

Second Defenestration of Prague

A contemporary woodcut of the defenestration in 1618.[a]
The window where the second defenestration occurred. Note the monument to the right of the castle tower.

The Second Defenestration of Prague was central to the start of the Thirty Years' War in 1618.

Some members of the Bohemian aristocracy rebelled following the 1617 election of Ferdinand (Duke of Styria and a Catholic) as King of Bohemia to succeed the aging Emperor Matthias. In 1617, Roman Catholic officials ordered the cessation of construction of some Protestant chapels on land of which the Catholic clergy claimed ownership. Protestants contended the land in question was royal, rather than owned by the Catholic Church, and was thus available for their own use. Protestants interpreted the cessation order as a violation of the right to freedom of religious expression granted in the Letter of Majesty issued by Emperor Rudolf II in 1609. They also feared that the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand would revoke the Protestant rights altogether once he came to the throne.

On May 23, 1618, an assembly of Protestants, led by Count Thurn who the Emperor had deprived of his post as Castellan of Karlstadt and who, in reaction to an inflammatory letter received from the Emperor's principal adviser, Bishop Klesl, had exhorted his followers to throw the Regents appointed by the Emperor out the window "as is customary", bribed their way into the Prague Castle (the Hradschin) where the Regents were meeting. Finding only four of the Regents along with their secretary in attendance they demanded the Regents admit they had been responsible for Klesl's letter. The first two denied responsibility and were removed from the room leaving only Count Vilem Slavata, Count Jarolslaw Martinitz (who had replaced Thorn as Castellan), known Catholic hard-liners, and the secretary to the Regents. Slavata and Martinitz had been the intended victims all along. Many in the room later claimed that they thought the two Regents were only going to arrested and by the time they realized what was happening it was too late. The Regents were thrown out the third floor window along with the Regents'secretary, Philip Fabricius. They fell 30 metres [2] and landed on a large pile of manure in a dry moat and survived. Philip Fabricius was later ennobled by the emperor and granted the title von Hohenfall (lit. meaning "of Highfall").

Roman Catholic Imperial officials claimed that the three men survived due to the mercy of angels assisting the righteousness of the Catholic cause. Protestant pamphleteers asserted that their survival had more to do with the horse excrement in which they landed than the benevolent acts of the angels.

Further defenestrations

More events of defenestration have occurred in Prague during its history, but they are not usually called defenestrations of Prague.

A defenestration (chronologically the second defenestration of Prague, sometimes called one-and-halfth defenestration) happened on September 24, 1483, when a violent overthrow of the municipal governments of the Old and New Towns ended with throwing the Old-Town portreeve and the bodies of seven killed aldermen out of the windows of the respective town halls.

Sometimes, the name the third defenestration of Prague is used, although it has no standard meaning. For example, it has been used [3] to describe the death of Jan Masaryk, who was found below the bathroom window of the building of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 10, 1948. The official report listed the death as a suicide[4], but there have been persistent rumours that he was murdered, either by the nascent Communist government in which he served as Foreign Minister, or by the Soviet secret services.[5] The Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal died from a fall from a window in 1997, apparently when trying to feed birds.

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. ^ According to castles.org, it was an estimated 27 ells fall. According to sizes.com, at the 17th century it 1 ell = 5/4 yards. Hence the windows were at about 30 metres (roundabout 100 feet).
  3. ^ Johnston, Ian. "Some Introductory Historical Observations" (lecture transcript)
  4. ^ Horáková, Pavla (11-03-2002). "Jan Masaryk died 54 years ago". Radio Prague. http://www.radio.cz/en/article/24973. Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  5. ^ Richter, Jan (10-03-2008). "Sixty years on, the mystery of Jan Masaryk’s tragic death remains unresolved". Radio Prague. http://www.radio.cz/en/article/101758. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 

a. ^  The room in which this occurred still exists and you can visit it in the Hradcany Castle. The windows on one side shown in the illustration, are set high and the fall is at least one story. On the opposite wall, there are also windows and since the castle is on a hill, the fall from these windows is much shorter - about 5m into a courtyard.

Although this contemporary illustration and another one of a panorama, shows the ambassadors being thrown out of the steep drop.

This is a good example of even contemporary illustrations being economical with the truth, presumably to gain political advantage. Although, another reading may simply be the fact that a woodcut print is laterally reversed when printed, so unless it was initially drawn in reverse on the wood-block by the artist, it would read reversed when printed on paper. Admittedly though, most artists would have reversed the drawing when tracing it onto the wood-block, so other information within the image would have to be read to determine correct point of view.

References

An English translation of part of Slavata's report of the incident is printed in Henry Frederick Schwarz, The Imperial Privy Council in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1943, issued as volume LIII of Harvard Historical Studies), pp. 344–347.

External links

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The Defenestrations of Prague were two incidents in the history of Bohemia. The first occurred in 1419 and the second in 1618, although the term "Defenestration of Prague" more commonly refers to the latter incident. Both helped to trigger prolonged conflict within Bohemia and beyond. Defenestration is the act of throwing someone out of a window (from the Latin: de: out of, with a downward motion implied; fenestra: window).

Contents

First Defenestration of Prague

The First Defenestration of Prague involved the killing of seven members of the city council by a crowd of radical Czech Hussites on July 30, 1419.

Jan Želivský, a Hussite priest at the church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, led his congregation on a procession through the streets of Prague to the Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) on Charles Square. The town council members had refused to exchange their Hussite prisoners. While they were marching, a stone was thrown at Želivský from the window of the town hall.[1] The mob became enraged at this event and, led by Jan Žižka, stormed the town hall. Once inside the hall, the group threw the judge, the burgomaster, and some thirteen members of the town council out of the window and into the street, where they were killed by the fall or dispatched by the mob.[1]

King Václav IV (Wenceslaus in English, Wenzel in German), upon hearing this news, was so stunned that he died a little time after, supposedly due to the shock.[1]

The procession was a result of the growing discontent at the inequality between the peasants and the contemporary direction of the Church, the Church's prelates, and the nobility. This discontentment combined with rising feelings of nationalism and increased the influence of radical preachers such as Jan Želivský, influenced by Wycliff, who saw the current state of the Catholic Church as corrupt. These preachers urged their congregations to action, including taking up arms, to combat these perceived transgressions.

The First Defenestration was thus the turning point between talk and action leading to the prolonged Hussite Wars. The wars broke out shortly afterward and lasted until 1436.

Second Defenestration of Prague

File:Prague Castle defenestration
The window where the second defenestration occurred. Note the monument to the right of the castle tower.

The Second Defenestration of Prague was central to the start of the Thirty Years' War in 1618.

Some members of the Bohemian aristocracy rebelled following the 1617 election of Ferdinand (Duke of Styria and a Catholic) as King of Bohemia to succeed the aging Emperor Matthias. In 1617, Roman Catholic officials ordered the cessation of construction of some Protestant chapels on land of which the Catholic clergy claimed ownership. Protestants contended the land in question was royal, rather than owned by the Catholic Church, and was thus available for their own use. Protestants interpreted the cessation order as a violation of the right to freedom of religious expression granted in the Letter of Majesty issued by Emperor Rudolf II in 1609. They also feared that the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand would revoke the Protestant rights altogether once he came to the throne.

On May 23, 1618, an assembly of Protestants, led by Count Thurn whom the Emperor had deprived of his post as Castellan of Karlstadt and who, in reaction to an inflammatory letter received from the Emperor's principal adviser, Bishop Klesl, had exhorted his followers to throw the Regents appointed by the Emperor out the window "as is customary", bribed their way into the Prague Castle (the Hradschin) where the Regents were meeting. Finding only four of the Regents along with their secretary in attendance they demanded the Regents admit they had been responsible for Klesl's letter. The first two denied responsibility and were removed from the room leaving only Count Vilem Slavata, Count Jarolslaw Martinitz (who had replaced Thorn as Castellan), known Catholic hard-liners, and the secretary to the Regents. Slavata and Martinitz had been the intended victims all along. Many in the room later claimed that they thought the two Regents were only going to be arrested and by the time they realized what was happening it was too late. The Regents were thrown out the third floor window along with the Regents' secretary, Philip Fabricius. They fell 30 metres [2] and landed on a large pile of manure in a dry moat and survived. Philip Fabricius was later ennobled by the emperor and granted the title von Hohenfall (lit. meaning "of Highfall").

Roman Catholic Imperial officials claimed that the three men survived due to the mercy of angels assisting the righteousness of the Catholic cause. Protestant pamphleteers asserted that their survival had more to do with the horse excrement in which they landed than the benevolent acts of the angels.

Further defenestrations

More events of defenestration have occurred in Prague during its history, but they are not usually called defenestrations of Prague.

A defenestration (chronologically the second defenestration of Prague, sometimes called one-and-halfth defenestration) happened on September 24, 1483, when a violent overthrow of the municipal governments of the Old and New Towns ended with throwing the Old-Town portreeve and the bodies of seven killed aldermen out of the windows of the respective town halls.

Sometimes, the name the third defenestration of Prague is used, although it has no standard meaning. For example, it has been used[3] to describe the death of Jan Masaryk, who was found below the bathroom window of the building of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 10, 1948. The official report listed the death as a suicide,[4] but there have been persistent rumours that he was murdered, either by the nascent Communist government in which he served as Foreign Minister, or by the Soviet secret services.[5] The Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal died from a fall from a window in 1997, apparently when trying to feed birds.

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. ^ According to castles.org, it was an estimated 27 ells fall. According to sizes.com, at the 17th century it 1 ell = 5/4 yards. Hence the windows were at about 30 metres (roundabout 100 feet).
  3. ^ Johnston, Ian. "Some Introductory Historical Observations" (lecture transcript)
  4. ^ Horáková, Pavla (11-03-2002). "Jan Masaryk died 54 years ago". Radio Prague. http://www.radio.cz/en/article/24973. Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  5. ^ Richter, Jan (10-03-2008). "Sixty years on, the mystery of Jan Masaryk’s tragic death remains unresolved". Radio Prague. http://www.radio.cz/en/article/101758. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 

References

An English translation of part of Slavata's report of the incident is printed in Henry Frederick Schwarz, The Imperial Privy Council in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1943, issued as volume LIII of Harvard Historical Studies), pp. 344–347.

External links


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