Two Catholic imperial officials and their secretary were thrown out of the window of the Bohemian Chancellery in the Second Defenestration of Prague.

Prague had witnessed its first defenestration (literally ‘the act of throwing someone or something out of a window’) in 1419, but it is the second event that is perhaps better known since it acted as a catalyst for the Thirty Years War.

Both defenestrations were rooted in religious conflict. The latter came after the newly elected Catholic king, Ferdinand II, encouraged his cousin Matthias, the Holy Roman Emperor, to order the construction of two new Protestant chapels in the Bohemian towns of Broumov and Hrob to stop. The largely Protestant population in Bohemia argued against the order as they believed that it violated the 1609 Letter of Majesty, issued by the earlier Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, which allowed them to freely practise their religion.

In the face of the Protestant opposition, Ferdinand dissolved the assembly of the Bohemian estates. However, this did not stop the Protestant leaders from gathering on the morning of 23 May. They made their way to the Bohemian Chancellery where they put the Catholic imperial regents on trial for disobeying the Letter of Majesty.

Two regents – Count Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice – were found guilty of violating the Right of Freedom of Religion. The two men, along with the regents’ secretary, were then thrown from the third-floor window. They all survived the fall with only minor injuries. Catholics claimed that they were saved thanks to divine intervention, while Protestants maintained that they fell into a dung heap. In the aftermath, both Catholic and Protestant forces began gathering for war.

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© Scott Allsop