Défenestrer: from dé- + fenêtre + -er. The word is obsolete now, but in the old French, the root signified “window”. “Defenestrate” then, combines with an object, meaning to throw a person or thing, out of the window.
In 1840, a young politician found himself in a legislative minority, opposed to a payment to the Illinois State Bank. In order to prevent a quorum, a handful of his fellow Whigs attempted to leave the chamber. Finding the door locked, our man walked to a second-story window, and jumped out. Abraham Lincoln would later come to regret what he called his “window scrape”, but the future 16th President of the United States was hardly the first politician to exit from a window. Voluntarily, or otherwise.
Jezebel, yeah that Jezebel, the unlovable Queen of Israel from the Bible, was executed by defenestration at the hands of her own eunuch servants, in BC842.
In 1617, the Kingdom of Bohemia included pretty much all of the modern-day Czech Republic, a principality in those days ruled by the Habsburg dynasty and subject to rule of the Holy Roman Empire.
Ever since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the religious persuasion of subjects was guided by the principle of “Cuius Regio, Eius Religio“. The ruling Prince got to choose the religious practices, of his subjects.
The system worked fairly well and Emperor Rudolf II further guaranteed religious liberty in his “Letter of Majesty”, of 1609. Then came King Matthias, aging and without issue, who elected Ferdinand of Styria his heir in 1617. Now everything changed. A strong proponent of the Catholic counter-reformation, Ferdinand was not well disposed to the religious liberties of the Protestant majority. Before long, Bohemian officials were closing Protestant chapels.
On May 23, 1618, “Defensors” appointed under the Letter of Majesty to protect Protestant rights called an assembly in Prague, trying and convicting the Imperial Regents of violating their religious liberties. These were the Regents Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Košumberk, and Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice. Having been found guilty, they, along with their secretary Philip Fabricius, were thrown out of the windows of Prague Castle. Literally.
The street was 70-feet below.
This event, known the Defenestration of Prague, signaled the beginning of the 30 years’ war. And yet, even this wasn’t the first time, someone was thrown from a Prague window.
The first such defenestration took place back on July 30, 1419 at the hands of radical followers of the Protestant reformer Jan Hus, burned at the stake some four years earlier. These “Hussites” were marching by the new town hall, when someone threw a rock out a window and hit one of the leaders. “Peaceful protesters” all, the mob busted down the door and threw a judge, a Burgomaster (“Master of the Town”) and 13 members of the town council, out the window.
The Hussite Wars which ensued were fought over such weighty matters as whether communion was to proceed “under both kinds” (both bread and wine), as opposed to bread alone, the preferred practice at that time, of the Catholic church. This led to a second defenestration during the violent coup of September 24, 1483, in which Prague’s Old Town Burgomaster and several New Town council members were thrown already dead, from their respective windows. For now, circumstances were thus restored to pre-Hussite conditions.
None of these guys were as fortunate as the victims of that third defenestration, in 1618. The lucky ones died a gruesome death as a result of sudden impact, with the ground. The unlucky survivors were left to the tender mercies of a homicidal mob.
What happened to these guys? Surprisingly, none of the three were seriously injured. Supporters claimed the trio was caught and protected from injury, by celestial beings. Angels. Detractors attributed their salvation to a great mound of…er… Poo. A pile of horseshit. Be that as it may, Phillip Fabricius was made a Noble by the Emperor, and granted a title: Baron von Hohenfall. (“Baron of Highfall“).
Really. I promise. I wouldn’t make that up.