The First Defenestration of Prague – 602 Years Ago

The defenestrations of Prague were two incidents in which multiple people were defenestrated (that is, thrown out of a window).

The first occurred in 1419, and the second in 1618, although the term “Defenestration of Prague” more commonly refers to the second.

Each helped to trigger a prolonged religious conflict inside Bohemia (the Hussite Wars, 1st defenestration) or beyond (Thirty Years’ War, 2nd defenstration).

Prague Defenestration of 1419

A rector at Charles University and a preacher at Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel, Czech theologian and philosopher Jan Hus opposed many aspects of the Catholic Church in Bohemia.

He notably denounced the moral failings of bishops and even the papacy from his pulpit and opposed the sale of indulgences, Church documents which supposedly shortened or terminated a soul’s stay in purgatory.

Jan Hus spoke out against the pope for selling indulgences in Bohemia to raise money, which did not sit well with King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia, who had received a share from indulgence sales. Without the King’s support, Jan Hus was eventually excommunication and fled to southern Bohemia, where he stayed in exile for two years.

When the Council of Constance assembled in 1415, Jan Hus was asked to be there and present his views. But upon arrival, the Czech reformer was arrested and, refusing to recant his views, was eventually burned at the stake for heresy.

His many followers promptly took up his cause. The Hussites – a sort of pre-Lutheran Christian reform group – fought a series of wars through the rest of the 15th century and into the 16th.

When news came to Bohemia that Hus – who had been guaranteed safe passage by Emperor Sigismund, brother of the King of Bohemia – the nobles who supported him sent a letter of protest to the Council of Constance.

Sigismund responded with threats, claiming that he would “drown” all followers of Hus and his English influence, John Wycliffe. Bohemia promptly exploded in violence; Catholic priests were forced out of their parishes in many areas.

The King Interferes

King Wenceslas IV, prompted by Sigismund, made an attempt to quell the popular movement, to no avail. Meetings were held throughout the country; the people readied for war.

During the early morning hours on July 30th, 1419, a radical Hussite priest named Jan Želivský was preaching in the Virgin Mary Sněžná church.

He managed to radicalize his audience so much that the armed and furious mob moved toward the New Town City Hall, where they demanded, through the speech of Jan Želivský, and the release of their brethren.

Just as they were passing the town hall, though, a stone was thrown from an upstairs window, and allegedly hit the group’s leader, Želivský. The Hussites weren’t very impressed by that, on the whole. Enraged, the protesters stormed the town hall, and climbed up to the council room.

The assault was apparently commanded by Jan Žižka, a later Hussite leader. The council members were thrown out of the windows and then killed by the enraged mob in the street.

It has been suggested that Wenceslaus was so stunned by the defenestration that it caused his death supposedly due to the shock on August 16, 1419. (Alternatively, it is possible that he may have just died of natural causes.)

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.

 

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