Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Defenestration of Prague in 1618

Defenestration of Prague in 1618
The Thirty Years War began as an internal conflict that started with three individuals being thrown out of a window in a Bohemian castle. The incident began with transition from one leader to the next. In the process, a policy shift also followed. The shift turned out to be for the worst. It instigated contempt and then violence, which eventually resulted to an event known as the 1681 Defenestration of Prague. What events led to the defenestration? What transpired during the event? And lastly, how the Defenestration of Prague shook Europe?

Defenestration came from a Latin word of Fenestra. The Latin word meant window; hence, it pointed to someone being thrown out of a window. Defenestration seemed to be a hallmark of protest Bohemian back then. Before 1618, two centuries before, in 1419, the Hussites committed the first Defenestration of Prague, throwing out members of the city council. Later on, the event in 1419, inspired the Bohemians to repeat it as a sign of protest.

Religious and political reasons seemed to have been the Bohemians’ reason for committing the 1618 Defenestration. During the early 17th century, Europe, and especially the Holy Roman, became embroiled in division and religious conflict. Fighting between the Catholics and the Protestants raged throughout Europe, from Spain to Poland. Various Protestant sects appeared and found support in some states. In Germany, or back then known as the Holy Roman Empire, some principalities adopted Protestantism and some continued to support the Catholic Church. These division sometimes led to armed conflict, bringing the whole Holy Roman Empire into a state of civil war. Few Holy Roman Emperors attempted to ease the tension by becoming tolerant towards the Protestants. The Peace of Augsburg secured peace for the Empire. Then in 1609, Emperor Rudolf II issued the Letter of Majesty that allowed Bohemia to freely practice their Protestant religion. It allowed the Bohemians to build new churches as well as conduct service. It also secured the Bohemians the freedom of assembly. When Emperor Matthias became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1612, he continued the tolerance that his predecessor showed. For years, Protestantism in Bohemia flourished.

However, the blossoming of Protestantism proved to be only temporary. In 1618, Emperor Matthias fell ill and dying. Matthias did not have a son to become his heir. Hence, Prince Ferdinand, a cousin of the sickly Emperor apparently became the heir to the Holy Roman Empire. As Emperor Matthias began to cease his duties because of his frail health, some of the authority and state affairs began to be conducted by Prince Ferdinand. Ruling some of the kingdoms, like the Kingdom of Bohemia, of the Holy Roman Empire became one these duties. Ferdinand soon proved to be a though and zealous Catholic. Returning the whole Holy Roman Empire under the Catholic faith and extinguishing or discouraging Protestantism became one of his top agendas. This vision of the soon-to-be Holy Roman Empire came immediately to the capital of the Protestant Kingdom of Bohemia – Prague. Regents or administrators sent by Ferdinand arrived to Prague. Quickly, they disregarded the Letter of Majesty issued by the late Emperor Rudolf II to Bohemia. Imperial official tore down two Protestant churches. Authorities also ceased any religious services of Protestants. The heyday of religious freedom in Bohemia ended.

With the encroachment of their religious freedom disgruntled many nobles in the Diet or assembly of Bohemia. In March of 1618, an assembly or the Diet of Bohemian nobles protested to Emperor Matthias over the actions of the regents sent by Ferdinand. Matthias, however, refused to act against Ferdinand and even turned against the Bohemians by threatening them of imprisonment once they repeated the act of assembly and petitioning the Emperor. The Bohemian noble had no option but to wait and see for any developments. In May 21, 1618, the Diet of Bohemia once again convened to discuss the matter of Ferdinand’s act against their religious freedom. The meeting became eventually turned into a plot. Members of the nobility became too angry about the curtailment that they demanded though actions against the authorities sent by Ferdinand. The Count Heinrich Matthias von Thurn pushed for a stout actions against the Imperial regents. He instigated an attack on the office of the regents in Hradcany Castle.

And so, in May 23, 1618, an angry mob, mostly nobles, barged into the Hradcany Castle. At 9am, they charged to the office of the regents and into a small council room. There, the four regents held a small meeting when crowed came. To the urging of fearless Bohemian nobles, four nobles, namely, Wilhelm von Lobkowitz, Albrecht Smiricky, Ulrich Kinsky, Litwin von Rican, and a knight, Paul Kaplir, carried one of the well-known staunch imposer of the will of Ferdinand, Jaroslav Borsita von Martinitz. The five men carried Martinitz to a window, and in an act of protest as well as defiance, they threw him out of the window. Martinitz fell fifty feet down to a pile of dung, injured but alive. Count of von Thurn then turned the attention of the nobles to another regent of Ferdinand and facilitator of the crackdown against Protestantism, Wilhelm Slawata. Von Thurn with the other men grabbed him threw him also out of the window. However, Slawata managed to grab on to the ledge of the window. But, the Bohemian nobles hit his hands with the hilt of their swords, after which, he fell fifty feet down. He too survived the fall and assisted his friend, Martinitz. The chaos, however, did not end with the throwing out of two regent. They also bent out their anger to a secretary name Philipp Fabritius. The Bohemian angry mob also threw him out of the window. Fabritius luckily fell safely. So much so, he managed to take a carriage and raced to Vienna to report to Ferdinand and Emperor Matthias the deteriorating situation in Bohemia. Meanwhile, Martinitz and Slawata survived and escaped out of Prague as well. The Bohemian nobles succeeded in sending Vienna a message: Curtail religious freedom and officials would find themselves thrown out of the window.

The impact of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 had immediate effects. In 1619, Emperor Matthias passed away and succeeded by Ferdinand. As he took the thrown, Bohemia went to an open revolt against the new Holy Roman Emperor. Ferdinand also wanted to fight Bohemia in order to avenge the defenestration. Eventually, due to political reasons, the revolt of the Bohemians, an internal conflict in theHoly Roman Empire, activated religious divisions and political rivalry, drivingthe whole Europe into the Thirty Years’ War. A simple protest for religious tolerance and freedom later drove Europe into a major conflict.

See also:
Causes of the Thirty Years' War
Military Innovation: Gustavus Adolphus

Bireley, R. Ferdinand II, Counter-Reformation Emperor, 1578 - 1637. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Rosner, L. & J. Theibault. A Short History of Europe, 1600-1815: Search for a Reasonable World. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc, 2000.

Helfferich, T. (ed.). The Thirty Years War: A Documentary History. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2009.

Wilson, P. The Thirty Years War: A Sourcebook. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

_____________. The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy. London: Penguin Group, 2009.

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