Out and Down


Artist’s rendering of the three Catholic Lords Regent being tossed out of the third story window of the Bohemian Chancellery.

“Defenestration” is one of the strangest words in the English language. Defined by Oxford as “the action of throwing someone out of a window,” it’s so oddly specific that there has to be a story behind it. As it turns out, there is—and it’s among the most mind-numbingly insane in history.

Four hundred years ago, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, central Europe was a religious fuse waiting to be lit. The Archduke of Austria, nominally the emperor of all of Germany and northern Italy, was staunchly Catholic, while many smaller kingdoms in the region were Protestant. 

Bohemia, one of the larger kingdoms in the region, was ruled by the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand II, who had been crowned in 1617. His aggressive moves against the influential Protestant nobility of Bohemia led to widespread anger, and a meeting was called to arbitrate the dispute. The meeting went poorly; the king’s representatives refused to compromise, and tensions ran high. So high, in fact, that the Protestants grabbed three of the Catholics and chucked them bodily out of the third story window. 

Generally, falling 70 feet results in a fairly quick death. But, as luck would have it, a steaming pile of horse manure lay immediately beside the building where the meeting was taking place*. The three defenestrated men all landed in the poop, cushioning their fall and averting any severe injuries. The Catholics hailed their survival as a miracle, a sign from God that they were in the right; the Catholic king even granted one of the survivors the title of Baron von Hohenfall (literally Baron of Highfall). The Protestants, we can only speculate, responded with something along the lines of, “but they landed in a literal pile of crap…”

You would imagine that, with no lasting harm done, everyone would just be able to laugh it off. But that would be greatly overestimating the senses of humor of the men involved—and all of 17th century Europe, for that matter. The Bohemian nobility immediately rose up and revoked Ferdinand’s title of King of Bohemia and handed it to a Protestant, Frederick V of the Palatinate. In response, Ferdinand invaded Bohemia from Austria and obliterated Protestant forces at the Battle of White Mountain, beginning the Thirty Years War. The war would eventually expand to cover much of Europe, drawing in the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, and eventually, France and Sweden. It would lead to millions of deaths and the depopulation of vast swaths of central Europe. All because some Bohemian guy got thrown out of a window.

*This story may be apocryphal, but it’s hilarious, so I included it.

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