Out of the Window

Defenestration-prague-1618

Image via Wikipedia

We dwell on dark sectarian doings today, and if you feel you need to walk away and find a bastion of light and joy, please feel free to do so.

These dark doings come from an unlikely source: the window.

Since time immemorial, man has devised nasty ways to execute people. They have been ingenious, malevolent, Machiavellian, inhumane. They have made men dread to transgress, from the hanging, drawing and quartering of the English to the detached efficiency of the French guillotine.

I will not dwell on these, but on a form of execution which requires no finesse, no ingenuity whatsoever. Indeed, this choice appears a little brainless. It prolongs nothing, extracts only seconds of consciousness of the revenge Β of those one has wronged, and even those fleeting musings might be drowned out by the wind whistling past one’s ears. Yet it has started at least two huge revolutions, and wreaked havoc in the distant land of Bohemia.

I speak of the grandly named defenestration: which means, broadly, to throw someone out of a window.

The most famous two incidents were in Prague, roughly two centuries apart, each of which kicked off an almighty bunfight in what was then Bohemia.

In 1419 religious unrest was brewing. The followers of Jan Hus – a man who had been executed by order of the Roman Catholic powers that be – stormed the town hall, and its officials responded by throwing stones at them. Outraged, the Hussites gained entry and threw seven officials from the Town Hall windows.

Two hundred years later, they chose a different venue. This time it was the imposing Prague Castle. And to help tell the tale it will be necessary for you to know – if you don’t already – what a midden is.

Long before anyone thought of building anything high enough to defenestrate our household waste, our ancestors were making middens. Archaeologists delight over ancient middens which are constituted mainly of seafood shells and the like. But you can have mediaeval middens, oh, yes, and Georgian and Victorian ones: because they are old dumps of domestic waste.

I don’t have to elaborate, do I? Think of all the undesirable things one might find in a midden, and throw into the melting pot the fact that Northern English families used to call their outside toilets middens: and you will know precisely what I am talking about. Now you have only to estimate the contents of a midden in May of 1618 in the bustling Bohemian city of Prague, and you are ready to proceed.

Four Roman Catholic Regents had arrived in Prague with the express plan of making protestants of Bohemia revert to Catholicism. Some Bohemians thought this shabby: and after the regents consented to any punishment the people might deign appropriate, (the Regents had envisaged a mild arrest) the locals settled on a swift bit of defenestration.

Up to the third storey of that imposing building they were taken, and thrown out with no further ado. Some card shouted raucously as they went: “We shall see if your Mary shall help you!”

Thing is, they were saved. Someone saw one of them move. The rowdy rebel gulped noisily and spluttered: “By God! His Mary has helped!”

If you believe the Protestants, their fall was broken by horse dung; and the Catholics are said to have insisted angels buoyed them up. But if you believe MJ Cohen and John Major’s History of Quotations,Β the four fell into one of those infamous middens.

One would have thought someone would check the ground to make sure there were no natural mattresses to break their fall.

But no; there is no limit to the lack of sophistication involved in a good defenestration.

Feature image is from a lovely piece on Prague Castle atΒ thejetpacker.com

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48 thoughts on “Out of the Window

  1. Live and learn! I had only recently come across the word “defenestration” and was wondering what on earth it would have been invented for. I think I’ll be giving windows a wide berth for a little while.

  2. I will never look at windows the same way again. Or middens, for that matter. I knew a boy in high school with the last name Fenstermacher (German for window maker). I wonder if he knew what defenestration meant.

  3. Their miraculous survival was a window of opportunity?
    Funny that term – one tends to lock onto the last three syllables and thus it seems to be indicating surgical removal of dangly bits through a window.
    It is to be wondered, though, that having survived the fall they weren’t killed by the pong.

  4. The expediency of it all…and I do mean ALL. Everything from the choice of capital punishment to early waste management! What a grand story! You certainly find some obscure pieces of history, Kate, and I’m so glad you do–and re-tell well! πŸ™‚

  5. Great post, Kate, once again… with another word I’ve been introduced to!
    You know how I have a pull to the early Seventeenth Century? The image you have added with this post has chilled me. The clothes… and the people coming in through the door… feel VERY familiar…

    1. Gracious. We are inching closer, aren’t we, Tom? But those, by all accounts, are clothes worn by men from Bohemia – today’s Czech Republic. Hope you don’t turn out to have been Vlad the Impaler or someone.

  6. You’d think that the smell wafting up from that open window would have tipped someone off, but I sense that possessors of the great minds of the era were not the ones tossing their fellow man through those windows.

  7. A few years ago, I read a newspaper report about a man in Italy who, after 40 years of marriage, picked up his wife and, without a word, threw her out of their apartment window to her death.

  8. I have found the word Defenestration used for Fenestron Stall – A ‘mytholigical’ problem experienced by some pilots flying Aerospatiale helicopters.

    I sometimes feel like defenestrating some senior managers πŸ˜‰

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