The Defenestrations of Prague (Special Edition Stand-Alone Article)

Posted by Powee Celdran

Welcome back to another article on The Byzantium Blogger, however this time I am taking a break from my usual Byzantine history articles and for a change I am doing this year’s first non-Roman, non-Byzantine history article and it will be on something totally different yet still something to do with history. This one is going to be set in Prague, today the capital of Czech Republic which is a city with very great but also very hilarious history. This article will then be my bonus article for my blog page this year under the special edition articles and will feature the 4 “defenestrations” of Prague in different centuries. The reason why I am going to do a discussion on these events is because the Youtube channel of Dovahhatty has recently completed its series on the “Unbiased History of Rome” and has now returned with a stand-alone video on the 4 “defenestrations” of Prague as an experimental video and break from the channels usual Roman history parody videos. Now I am doing the same as my favorite channel Dovahhatty and will also do a bonus stand-alone article on the story of the “Defenestrations of Prague” and will be doing a short analysis on them as well as a commentary on Dovahhatty’s “Unbiased History”. The link to the video will also be shown below. Also take note that this article will be a break from my usual extremely long, heavy, and scholarly Roman and Byzantine history articles as now I will be doing a short and light read on hilarious yet significant events in history which all took place in the city of Prague. Now the word Defenestration means “the act of throwing someone out of a window” in the formal yet humorous sense while informally it means “the action or process of dismissing someone from a position of power or authority”. Though both meanings are different, it both comes from Latin origin with de meaning “down from” and fenestra meaning “window” but in history this word is quite rare and would only be remembered for its use one time in 1618 when a rebellious mob threw off or defenestrated Catholic council officials in Prague, and this event would be remembered as the “Defenestration of Prague”. However, this was not the only defenestration of Prague as before that one defenestration happened in 1419 and one 1483 and both in Prague and again in 1948. Before starting with article I should give a quick intro to Prague which you may all know as the capital of today’s Czech Republic though it has a very rich history being the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia under the Holy Roman Empire since the 14th century and also an important city in the empire but was also one of the most troubled as between the 15th and 17th centuries, it was where most of the ongoing religious conflicts in the empire took place and even after the Holy Roman Empire weakened in the 17th century and later on dissolved, Prague still served as an important city to its successor empire, the Austrian Empire and was also taken over by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th century giving the city such a rich as well as dark history. In fact, I have actually been to Prague once in my life some years ago and saw the exact locations where the different defenestrations happened which will be discussed later. Now the most remembered Defenestration of Prague in 1618 is very well remembered as the event that began the 30-Years’-War (1618-1648) which was one of the biggest conflicts in European history and it was what brought to the decline of the centuries old Holy Roman Empire, which just like Byzantium was another successor of the Roman Empire of old except the Holy Roman Empire wasn’t as centralized as the Byzantine Empire was. The act of defenestrating or throwing someone off a window though is not quite heard of but it was possibly one of the quickest ways to rebel against the ruling faction especially when the faction that is intended to be overthrown seems more powerful. Today, the act of defenestrating could seem funny but back then it was one of the quickest ways to express anger towards the ruling class and the easiest way to fight them back. Just like Dovahhatty’s unbiased history which is actually very biased yet hilarious, I will do my best to write it that way but also give a critique on the video as I write about the defenestration stories.

Watch Dovahhatty’s Defenestrations of Prague here.

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“Defenestration” defenition

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1419 

The first Defenestration of Prague took place on July 30, 1419 involving a rebel faction that broke out in Prague that year which was a religious reform movement following the teachings of Jan Hus, a Czech reformist who was executed in 1415. Jan Hus was born a peasant in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) in 1373 and would be one of the first reformers together with the Englishman John Wyclif (1328-1384) who was also one of the first to speak against the Catholic Church and its corruption at that time. In Jan Hus’ time, he saw for himself how corrupt the Catholic Church was becoming that the Papacy was even at war with each other with the actual pope and anti-pope in which you could not tell which was the true pope in what was known as the “Great Western Schism” and both would be even against their own Christian people declaring writings against them as heretical while priests demanded bribes saying it would absolve people from sin. Jan Hus would do his part to wake the people up against the abuses and corruption of the Church by preaching to them about it in Czech, their native language which led many to his side and reject what they saw as the false teachings of the Church which were not written in Scriptures or the Bible. At this time, the King of Germany who was also the King of Hungary named Sigismund who I have mentioned a few times in several articles as the King of Hungary in 1396 who led a failed Crusade in Bulgaria to help the dying Byzantine Empire under Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos against the growing Ottoman Empire and in 1412 he called for a Church Council in Konstanz (Constance), Germany to resolve the issue of the schism in the Papacy but to also to deal with Jan Hus and his growing movement. Jan Hus was invited to Konstanz but when arriving he was thrown in prison for 73 days and put in trial afterwards to testify his movement wherein he was forced to renounce it but he refused to unless the Catholic Church would prove their made up teachings was written in the scriptures but instead Jan Hus was executed by being burned at the stake but this only led his followers to begin a violent religious movement wanting independence for Bohemia from the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church as a Hussite State with the teachings of Hus as their beliefs. In 1419, the revolution of the Hussites began led by a follower of Hus and more or less his successor, a priest named Jan Zelivsky who was as popular as Hus and at first he led his followers in a procession through Prague’s new town with his intention to have the Catholic town council members free Hussite members who were imprisoned in Prague’s new town hall and as the mob marched, the council members refused to release the prisoner and in return one of them threw a stone at Zelivsky who was leading the mob allegedly hitting his head though this only enraged the mob leading them to storm the town hall and head up the tower to the function room of the council and there they dealt with the council by defenestrating 7 of them including the judge, mayor, and 5 others. The 7 after being thrown off the window were all killed when they hit the ground and the prisoners were then released and when the Catholic King of Bohemia Wenceslas IV (r. 1378-1419) heard of the news of the deaths of the council members, he died of a heart attack. This revolution thus led to the Hussite Wars of Bohemia beginning also in that year (1419) and Zelivsky took part as a commander in the Hussite army against the Holy Roman emperor’s forces. The Hussites would become a revolutionary faction that wanted independence from the Holy Roman Empire and for the peasants to have equal rights with the Church and nobility, though the Hussite Wars was one of many events in history that would give birth to a national identity and in this case, it was the Czechs. The wars lasted in 1436 and though the Hussites were defeated, their faction still did not die out. Now about the birth of national identities in this time, for the Czechs it happened much later on being in the 15th century as many other countries would have theirs back in 13th century, for instance it was in the 13th century when Byzantium’s new national identity as a medieval Greek kingdom was born under Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) even if their empire had existed long before except before that, Byzantium was a multi-national empire and not yet a fully Greek kingdom. Then fast-forward to the time of the Hussite Wars between 1419 and 1436, Byzantium here was still around except in its last days under Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425) and his son John VIII Palaiologos (r. 1425-1448) though at this point Byzantium was dying out and the rest of Europe was rising. In a previous article I did on the events around the world during the entire history of Byzantium, I made a quick mention of the Hussite Wars when talking about the world in Byzantium’s last century (read Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part2 here).

Watch this to learn more about the Hussite Wars (from Kings and Generals).

1483

More than 60 years after the first defenestration of 1419, despite the Hussite Wars over and the Hussites defeated, the Hussites were still dominant in Bohemia that they were even allowed to be represented in the government. At this time, the Byzantine Empire had already disappeared after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 but over in Bohemia by 1483, the king Vladislav II (r. 1471-1516) who as a Catholic feared the growing influence of the Hussite council so he fired them all and replaced them with a Catholic one to restore the Church’s authority. The Hussites though were angered because of this especially the Hussite Faction known as the “Communion under both Kinds” which still believed in the Sacrament of the Eucharist or using bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ which were the ones that sat in the council. A revolt of the Hussites broke out in Prague’s old town, new town, and lesser town across the river on September 24, 1483 and each town’s hall was stormed by a mob; in the new town’s hall 7 council members were killed by the mob and their bodies defenestrated while in the old town’s hall, only the mayor was thrown out of the window alive wherein he died hitting the ground. The news of the deaths and defenestration and the ongoing Hussite revolts everywhere scared the king Vladislav II enough to have the Prague municipalities sign a treaty on October 6, 1483 giving equal rights again to both Hussites and Catholics and in 1485 both were made officially equal at the Kutna Hora assembly, though in world only as both would still not get along. The second defenestration however is not really considered official as it was not a full defenestration like the first one in 1419 and did not give birth to a full war like the first one did, so the second one is often called the One and a Half Defenestration or Defenestration of Prague 1 and ½.

1618

Throughout the entire 16th century, there had been no defenestration event in Prague though the Hussites were still dominant in Bohemia and more than that, the Protestant Reformation began in the early 16th century particularly the Lutheran Church in Germany, as well as other sects like the Calvinists and many more like the Church of England. In 1555, the Holy Roman emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1556) signed the Peace of Augsburg which allowed princes of the Holy Roman Empire to be free to choose their religion whether Catholicism or Protestantism, and this also allowed the people under them to freely practice their religion and this would begin the rise of Protestantism in the Holy Roman Empire making it now a stronger faith since not only commoners but rulers practiced it, thus leading to conflicts since entire states and its rulers would practice the faith opposing the empire’s religion being Catholicism. As for Bohemia, it has been ruled by kings of the Habsburg Dynasty since 1526, and this dynasty in which the emperor Charles V was from was strongly Catholic although they did not impose their religion on their Protestant subjects in Bohemia. Fast-froward to 1609, the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612) who despite a Catholic increased Protestant rights in Bohemia issuing the “Letter of Majesty” which allowed went as far as allowing Bohemian Protestant including Hussites their own state church and freedom to exercise their faith except that this made Rudolf II unpopular and seen as unfit to rule by his Habsburg relatives who were princes of other states in the Holy Roman Empire and already back in 1606, they declared his younger brother Matthias as the true ruler. Following Rudolf II’s death in 1612, he was succeeded by his younger brother Matthias who turned out to be the same kind of weak ruler as his brother still allowing the Bohemian Protestants to freely practice their religion even though this was already leading to conflicts. Matthias not handling the conflicts in Bohemia well enough had to abdicate as King of Bohemia in 1617 naming his cousin Ferdinand of Styria as King of Bohemia while Matthias continued to rule as Holy Roman emperor until his death in 1619 wherein, he was also succeeded by Ferdinand who then became Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II. As King of Bohemia, Ferdinand as a strong Catholic clearly opposed Protestantism and their rights so one of his first acts was to issue a decree forbidding the construction of any Protestant (including Hussite) churches which he asked his cousin the emperor to do the same as well. The Protestant people of Bohemia were then angered at Ferdinand’s decree thinking it was illegal since it was already official that the Protestants were given equal rights so they turned to Bohemia’s Protestant assembly led by the war veteran Count Heinrich Thurn to speak on their defense against Ferdinand. Count Thurn tried to persuade to King Ferdinand that his actions were wrong as was violating the law of religious equality but this only angered Ferdinand even more that he punished the Protestants by having the Protestant Council dissolved. Count Thurn then gathered the Protestant lords of Bohemia to have a meeting with the Catholic leaders council appointed by Ferdinand at the Bohemian Chancellery in the Prague Castle on May 23, 1618. The Protestant lords were to meet with the 4 Catholic leaders of Bohemia which were Count Jaroslav of Martinice, Count Vilem of Chlum, the Head of the Prague Castle Adam II von Sternberg, and the grand prior Matthew Lobkowitz as well as their secretary Filip Fabricius and the Protestants’ agenda was to clarify if the council members were responsible for persuading Ferdinand and the emperor Matthias to stop the construction of all Protestant churches. In the meeting one Protestant lord named Paul Rziczan read a letter they intercepted aloud which said that the Catholic leaders intended to execute all Protestant lords. The Protestant lords and the mob then confronted the leaders and interrogated them demanding an answer but they knew nothing of the letter and who wrote it, instead they asked the Protestant lords to confer with their superior Adam von Waldstein who wasn’t present but the Protestants still demanded answers, although the 2 Catholic leaders Adam II von Sternberg and Matthew Lobkowitz did not know anything of the plot so they were spared and were ordered to go free by Count Thurn. Only the hard-liners Count Jaroslav who took the position of Thurn when he was previously removed from it and Count Vilem as well as Fabricius were left to be interrogated. Now when the remaining leaders were confronted by the Protestant lords and mob, Count Jaroslav then admitted he and Count Vilem were guilty for advising the king to write the letter ordering the execution but still did not fear the Protestants thinking they would only go as far as imprisoning them. Count Thurn thinking of what kind of punishment to give the Catholic leaders then resorted to defenestrating Count Jaroslav, Count Vilem, and Fabricius and the 3 were suddenly thrown off the window of that same room in the 3rd floor of the building falling down 21m. Though the 2 leaders and Fabricius were thrown off the window, they all survived falling in a dung heap although Catholic propaganda would say angels saved them. In the aftermath of the defenestration, Count Jaroslav later became the royal Statholder of Bohemia while Count Vilem escaped Bohemia to Saxony and Fabricius was awarded the title of Baron von Hohenfall by the emperor Matthias which literally meant “Baron of Highfall” due to surviving the fall while Count Thurn would lead the Bohemian rebellion against Ferdinand. This 1618 defenestration immediately led to a civil war in Bohemia which would lead to the rise of the 30-Years’-War as the Catholic rulers of the Holy Roman Empire took the defenestration of Catholic leaders as a signal for war from the Protestants and already right after the defenestration, both Catholic and Protestant rulers of the Holy Roman Empire began making their own allies around Europe. In 1619, the Holy Roman emperor Matthias died and Ferdinand would be elected Emperor Ferdinand II but at the same time was deposed as King of Bohemia by the Protestant lords and replaced by the Elector of the Rhine Palatinate Frederick V who was a Calvinist Protestant and also a son-in-law of King James I of England but only a year later in 1620, Ferdinand II regained his position as King of Bohemia after defeating the less trained and equipped Bohemian Protestant army at the Battle of White Mountain, which was the first battle in the 30-Years-War. When defeating the Protestants, Ferdinand punished them so brutally that he had 27 Protestant nobles and citizens executed and 12 of their heads hanged from the bridge tower of Prague as a warning, but this only made tensions worse getting the Protestants more allies from all over Europe including Europe’s new strongest military power, the Swedish Empire which in this war would prove to be at its height of military superiority though the Catholic forces of the Holy Roman Empire would still be a difficult enemy in battle for the Protestants especially since the empire was supported by the Habsburg relatives who ruled Spain. The 30-Years-War as it progressed would although not turn out to be only a war of religion but a war for territory the moment all the European powers stepped in by having land claims within the Holy Roman Empire and even France which was Catholic sided with the Protestants as they had lands to claim in the empire while on the other hand the 30-Years-War also continued other longer conflicts such as the 80-Years-War or Dutch war of independence from Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Anyway, the Defenestration of 1618 is the one considered as the 2nd defenestration since just like the 1st defenestration of 1419, it also started a major war but unlike the Hussite Wars of Bohemia in the 15th century, the 30-Years-War of the 17th century was a much larger conflict that totally shook Europe ending in 1648 resulting in the fall of the Holy Roman Empire and the ultimate power of the Habsburgs over Europe but this still was not the end for the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. The 30-Years-War thus resulted in the end of Holy Roman Empire as a real power as after 1648 the Holy Roman Empire only existed in name but the war also brought about the rise of France and Protestant powers such as Sweden and Prussia which would eventually become strong empires for a short time though with the Holy Roman Empire’s power dissolved, the Austrian Empire under the Habsburgs came to succeed it for about 3 more centuries.

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Protestant lords defenestrate Catholic leaders in Prague, 1618
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Map of Europe in 1648, end of the 30-Years-War and dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire

Watch 10 Minute History- The 30-Years-War to learn more about its story (from History Matters). 

Watch this to learn more about the Battle of White Mountain and the beginning of the 30-Years-War (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the effects of the 30-Years-War (from Kings and Generals).

1948 

The 3rd or 4th defenestration if the 2nd one of 1483 is counted took place in Prague exactly 3 centuries after the last defenestration in 1618 but the defenestration in 1948 however was only an assassination that involved a killing by throwing someone out of a window and did not result in any great conflict and had also nothing to do with any Protestant vs Catholic conflict. In 1948, the age of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants were long over but Prague had still undergone many dark times. In 1939, Prague and the rest of Bohemia which became Czechoslovakia came under the occupation of Nazi Germany and in Britain, a Czechoslovak government-in-exile was established with Jan Masaryk, the son of the first Czechoslovak president Tomas Masaryk appointed as its foreign minister. In 1945, Czechoslovakia was liberated from the Nazis returning as the same Czechoslovakia except now under a Communist government serving Soviet Union Russia, though Jan Masaryk still remained as foreign minister and in 1947 he even became the president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) in 1947. Jan Masaryk who served under both Nazi and Communist Czechoslovakia was however not sympathetic to any of them and in Communist Czechoslovakia, he was the only minister who was not in line with them making him left out and seen as a possible enemy of the state. On March 10, 1948 Jan Masaryk was found dead on the ground directly below the bathroom window of the Building of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs but it is still speculated whether it was suicide or the Communist government agents killed him by throwing him off the bathroom window but in that time, to cover it up it was concluded that he committed suicide. Only in 2004 due to research was it proven that Jan Masaryk was actually defenestrated to death as a form of assassination and just like the Protestants centuries ago, these agents thought that killing Masaryk by throwing him off a window was the easiest way to kill him off and that way showing that he caused his own death.

So basically, the act of defenestrating was a quick and easy way to get rid of an enemy especially when your enemy has more power than you which is the case with the Protestant rebels of Bohemia and their Catholic overlords but defenestrating is also a quick assassination method to hide evidence of murder as it could also show that the person killed could have killed himself which was the case of Jan Masaryk. Anyway, the story of the defenestrations of Prague especially the first in 1419 and the second or third in 1618 shows how a small yet sudden event could have an impact on history and in this case the first defenestration in 1419 led to the Hussite Wars beginning Bohemia’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire while the one in 1618 led to an even bigger conflict being the 30-Years-War which totally changed the course of history for Europe that can still be seen today as this long war dissolved the centuries old Holy Roman Empire and led to the birth of other new states like Sweden and Prussia that would even become empires themselves. Meanwhile the second or 1 ½ defenestration of 1483 and the one in 1948 did not really have much of an impact in history except the one in 1483 led to the rise of Bohemia’s Hussite Protestants and the one in 1948 was more of a long unsolved mystery than an event that changed history. Now the whole point of the 4 defenestration stories show that history repeats itself and no matter how many centuries go by some methods including methods of killing like defenestrating doesn’t die and apparently since 4 of them took place in Prague, it happens that defenestrating could be a tradition of Prague and Bohemia and since it happen quite commonly there had to be a word created for throwing someone out of a window. Back to the videos of Dovahhatty, it would now seem quick a big turn that he ended up doing something quite unrelated going way forward in time since his last video The Fall of Rome concluding the Roman history series but even though the timeline took a big time jump, you may still see a few connections to the Roman history series as this story centers around the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church which are directly related to Imperial Rome and he still uses the same character designs (chads for heroes and virgins for villains) and this video like the Roman history series before it still shows the story in a very biased way where all is black and white as here the Hussites (Protestants) are plainly the heroes and the Papists (Catholics) are plainly the villains. Of course, telling history is not all black and white but the way Dovahhatty shows it just makes it more hilarious and entertaining. This new video though doesn’t capture the same amount of drama and suspense as his 2nd part of the Roman history series on the history of the empire which had epic music and dramatic scenes and rather this video was more like his older videos on the Roman Republic history but at least he is trying to do something new here by telling the story not in one continuous narration but this time dividing it into 4 parts in 4 different eras therefore showing more variety including the evolution of architecture in Prague as well as in clothing. Though this video did not show much soul as the previous one, it at least showed a lot more variety especially in character designs and clothing taking a break from the usual clothing you would see in his Roman history series and adding a more varied clothing selection from the 15th to 20th centuries. Anyway, this is all for this special edition stand-alone bonus article as just like Dovahhatty doing an experimental stand-alone video, I did the same too because up next I would return again to my usual Roman and Byzantine history posts which would be a comparison article between the events of the fall of Western Rome and the fall of Eastern Rome centuries later showing how history even in the same empire repeats itself. Though I only did this one as a stand-alone and will return to Roman/ Byzantine history after this, this article is also a start-off point to something I would do in the future, which would move on to do possibly the history of the Holy Roman Empire, which like Byzantium was another successor to Imperial Rome. Lastly, even if it may seem this article’s setting in Bohemia may be so far off from Byzantium but true enough there is a connection between both as back in the 9th century Christian missionaries from Byzantium namely St. Cyril and St. Methodius travelled to what was Bohemia back then and brought Christianity there but without knowing that one day the exact people of that place they brought Christianity to would begin a long-lasting conflict involving the religion that was brought to them originally from Byzantium. And this is all for this special edition article… thanks for viewing!