Defenestrations of Prague

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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).


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

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.

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