The Defenestration of Prague


The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was touched off by an incident called "The Defenestration of Prague". The Bohemian nobility was in more or less open revolt against the Emperor, and, at a meeting of the Bohemian Estates at the Hradcany Castle in Prague on 23 May 1618, the assembled Bohemian nobles took the two Imperial governors present at the meeting, namely Wilhelm Graf Slavata and Jaroslav Borzita Graf von Martinicz, and threw them out of a window of the castle and into a ditch.

Neither man was seriously injured as a result of being defenestrated (an English translation of part of Slavata's report of the incident is printed in Henry Frederick Schwarz, *The Imperial Privy Council in the Seventeenth Century* (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1943, issued as volume LIII of *Harvard Historical Studies*), pp. 344-347), and lines of descent from both men to several members of European Royalty can be shown. For example:


  • Wilhelm Gf Slavata (1572-1652) m. 1602 Lucia Ottilia v Neuhaus (1567-1633)
  • Joachim Ulrich Gf Slavata (1604-1645) m. 1622 Franziska v Meggau (1609-1676)
  • Johann Joachim Gf Slavata (1628-1689) m. 1663 Margareta v Trautson (1643-1698)
  • Maria Josefine Slavata (1667-1708) m. 1686 Hermann Jakob Gf Czernin v Chudenitz (1659-1710)
  • Maria Margareta Czernin v Chudenitz (1689-1725) m. 1704 Franz Gf v Waldstein (1680-1722)
  • Josef Georg Gf v Waldstein (1709-1771) m. 1729 Josefa v Trauttmansdorff (1704-1757, see below)
  • Jaroslav Borzita Gf v Martinicz (1582-1649) m. 1601 Maria Eusebia v Sternberg (1584-1634)
  • Ursula Polyxena v Martinicz m. 1637 Wenzel Georg Gf Holiczky v Sternberg (c1600-1681)
  • Eleonora Holiczky v Sternberg (1654-1703) m. 1676 Johann Friedrich Gf v Trauttmansdorff (1619-1695)
  • Franz Wenzel Gf v Trauttmansdorff (1677-1753) m. 1699 Maria Eleonora v Kaunitz (1681-1723)
  • Josefa v Trauttmansdorff (1704-1757) m. 1729 Josef Georg Gf v Waldstein (1709-1771, see above and below)
  • Josef Georg Gf v Waldstein (1709-1771) m. 1729 Josefa v Trauttmansdorff (1704-1757, both lines combined)
  • Georg Christian Gf v Waldstein (1743-1791) m. 1765 Elisabeth v Ulfeldt (1747-1791)
  • Maria Antonia v Waldstein (1771-1854) m. 1792 Franz Joseph Fst v Kohary (1767-1826)
  • Maria Antonia v Kohary (1797-1862) m. 1815 Ferdinand Pz v Sachsen-Coburg u Gotha (1785-1851)
  • Ferdinand II King of Portugal (1816-1885)

Other descents from one or both men to Sofie Chotek (1868-1914), to Marita Draskovich (1904-1969), to Isabel Dobrzensky (1875-1951), and to Johann I Fst v u zu Liechtenstein (1760-1836), are left as exercises for the interested reader.

Defenestration is a term meaning "to throw out a window." The Defenestration of Prague occurred in 1618, when local Protestants became angry with the Catholic King Ferdinand II for going back in his promise of religious freedom. The Protestants stormed Hradcany Castle and murdered three Catholic emissaries by throwing them out the window into a pile of dung. This event sparked the Thirty Years War, as seen in Bertolt Brecht's play, "Mother Courage and Her Children." According to my history professor, the term "defenestration" was originally coined to describe the murder of these three men (I have been unable to verify his statement).

Another defenestration happened in Prague in the late 1940's, sometime after World War II. In this case, the victim was Prime Minister Jan Masaryk, the son of the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomas G. Masaryk.

Jan Masaryk was a man of democracy, American style (his mother was an American). Because of that he presented a serious problem to the rise of power of the Communist party, and was, hence, defenestrated from his office which also was at the Hradcany castle, just like the first defenestration of Prague.

Masaryk's murder was covered up as suicide and would probably continue to be believed as such if not for the attempt to re-establish democracy in the spring and summer of 1968. At that time, someone (sorry I don't remember his name) published theretofore unknown facts about the alleged suicide. Shortly before it happened the organizers of the defenestration somehow arranged for everyone but Masaryk to vacate the building. The phones mysteriously stopped working before the murder, and were just as mysteriously fixed afterwards. The article describing the events went to much greater detail, alas, this is all I remember. I was 18 at the time, and 1968 was quite a hectic year.

However, I do remember that the author of that article demonstrated quite clearly (well, at least to me back then) that Masaryk's death was no suicide but a murder by defenestration organized by the Communists. Considering that the Communists of Czechoslovakia had no qualms about killing anyone who stood in their way, and that Masaryk's "suicide" was very convenient for them, I still believe the article was accurate and that Jan Masaryk was indeed murdered by defenestration by Communists.

The Defenestration of 1618 was in fact the "Second Defenestration of Prague".

The First Defenestration occurred 200 years earlier, in June 1419. The Hussites were rapidly gaining popularity of the time, and King Wenceslas IV, unable to keep control, had many of their leaders taken prisoner. During one of the trials, the citizens of Prague stormed the New Town Hall and threw the jury from the windows.

Following Wenceslas' death later that year, the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund started the Hussite Wars in retaliation.

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