Throwing people out of windows (or defenestrating them, as the Latin has it) is an act imbued with longstanding political significance in Prague. From

Windows Onto History The Defenestrations of Prague (1419–1997)

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2024-04-03 16:00:06

Throwing people out of windows (or defenestrating them, as the Latin has it) is an act imbued with longstanding political significance in Prague. From the Hussite revolt in the late Middle Ages through the Thirty Years’ War to modern instances of “autodefenestration”, Thom Sliwowski finds a national shibboleth imbued with ritual efficacy.

Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice and Vilém Slavata of Chlum getting defenestrated, which triggered the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), detail of an 1889 illustration from the Finnish magazine Kyläkirjaston Kuvalehti — Source.

It was the spring of 1618 and Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor and past King of Bohemia, had devised a plan that would prove calamitous. Seeking to reverse the concessions granted a decade prior by his brother and predecessor, Rudolf II, he tasked his deputies with reigning in the rights of Bohemian Protestants. But these Protestants lived in a tradition of religious dissidence preceding Martin Luther by a century: they were accustomed to a degree of autonomous rule and religious freedom uncommon elsewhere in Habsburg realms. When Matthias’ deputies halted the construction of chapels in Klostergrab and Braunau, Protestants, noblemen, and free burghers found themselves united in their indignation. Ordinarily, these groups had few interests in common. At the time, they could not see — as subsequent historians, painters, and poets would — that they were already becoming Czech, and were about to take part in what, centuries later, would be retrospectively recast as a kind of idiosyncratic national ritual. Nor could Matthias and his advisors see that the Holy Roman Empire was standing before a historical precipice. Keen to meddle in local affairs, Matthias was shrewd enough to act through his zealous deputies. And it was to them that the gravity of this situation would first become apparent.

Two Catholic deputies, Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice and Vilém Slavata of Chlum, had grown notorious for openly disavowing the Majestätsbrief: Rudolf II’s 1609 liberal guarantee of religious tolerance. When a Protestant assembly spurned by the shuttered chapels in Klostergrab and Braunau attracted a massive crowd, Martinice and Slavata began to worry. And when the count Jindřich Matyáš Thurn, elected defender of the Protestant faith, called for their execution, they realized it was already too late. The Catholic deputies had overplayed their hand; the mood among the infuriated townspeople was rising to a fever pitch. A large crowd followed the Protestant nobles to Hradčany Castle. They poured inside and to the upper floors, cornering Martinice and Slavata in a tower chamber. Shouting at, threatening, and then grabbing the deputies, they chucked Martinice out the window first. Slavata, meanwhile, held onto the ledge, begging for the Virgin’s intercession. In one final push, the crowd expelled him from the castle window as well. Only the deputies’ secretary remained. Shaking with fear, he clung to the prominent Protestant nobleman Joachim von Schlick for protection, but the defenestrators, as they would come to be called, peeled him off Schlick and tossed him out the window too.

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