Saturday, March 13, 2010

Out The Window I
Defenestration is one of those words that describe something you wouldn’t think as a word for it. Like for example anglet.1 In this case it means to throw someone out a window. Not surprisingly there is little cause for use of this word. After all if you mean to say “throw someone out the window” why not just say “throw someone out the window”, rather than defenestration. After all the usual response to the use of the word would likely be “What?”, or “what the #$%^& does that mean?”

In fact defenestration in my experience, with one exception,2 I’ve only seen it used to describe two separate events and no others. In fact it is like this word was only invented to describe those events and not to describe any other event involving throwing someone out a window. The two examples occurred in the same city and in both cases marked the start of some rather brutal, long wars. I am referring to the First, (1419 C.E.) and Second (1618 C.E.) Defenestrations of Prague.

The Second Defenestration of Prague was in deliberate imitation of the First Defenestration of Prague and was the event that marked the start of the interminable and quite horrible Thirty Years War. I may discuss it at another time.3 The First Defenestration marked the start of another long war that is not well known in the English speaking world; the Hussite Wars. A long, very bloody, precursor to both the Protestant Reformation and the ghastly religious wars that followed.4

Some other time I will discuss the Hussite Wars. Here I will go into a bit of the background and the actual events of First Defenestration of Prague.

The setting for these events is what today we call the Czech Republic. In those days it was a Kingdom with 5 parts. The kingdom of Bohemia, the Margravate of Moravia, Silesia and Upper and Lower Lusatia.5 All of those lands were considered the Lands of the Bohemian crown. Furthermore they were ruled in 1419 by the family of the House of Luxembourg in this case by King Wenceslas IV. Now Wenceslas IV was a son of Charles IV who was not just King of Bohemia but also King of Germany and hence Emperor. (Reign 1346-1378 C.E.) He was also a strong monarch and an incredibly successful one. Unfortunately he decided upon his death that his various holdings would be divided among his various sons and relatives the result was disaster.6

Lands of the Bohemian Crown
By dividing his possessions in Charles insured that his eldest son Wenceslas IV (King / Emperor of Germany 1378-1400 C.E., King of Bohemia 1378-1419 C.E.) lacked the resources to be an effective ruler of Germany and further that Charles IV’s various sons would be constantly intriguing for position and power against each other. The results were speedily apparent. It also did not help that Wenceslas although amiable and well liked was not a very effective ruler. The result was a serious breakdown in law and order in Bohemia and in much of Germany.7

Wenceslas IV
It wasn’t helped by the fact that Wenceslas’ brother Sigismund was actively intriguing against him and involved in various efforts to depose him. The breakdown in order, combined with intrigues and Wenceslas IV’s lack of political skill got him imprisoned twice, (1394 and 1402). On the second occasion he was deposed and his brother Sigismund, by this time king of Hungary (1486-1437 C.E.) was heavily involved. Wenceslas IV was rescued and resumed his position has king of Bohemia. In the meantime he was deposed has King / Emperor of Germany in 1400 C.E. Eventually his brother Sigismund was able to become Emperor / King of Germany in 1410 C.E.8
Sigismund King of Hungary &
German Emperor
During this time there was a breakdown of law and order in Bohemia and Moravia and small scale guerrilla like warfare became endemic. This created a large number of semi-professional / professional soldiers who needed conflict and disorder to earn a living. In 1409-1410 C.E., some sort of order was restored to Moravia and Bohemia, by a series of peace agreements, and truces. However conflict was never far bellow the surface.9

The reason that conflict was simmering was an escalating religious crisis. Bohemia was probably the area in Western Europe that had the biggest and most intense concentration of land in the hands of the Church. In 1410 this amounted to c. ½ of the land.10 Much of it in the hands of various orders like the Dominicans and Franciscans, who also commanded immense wealth in coin, jewellery, bullion and were heavily involved in trade and commerce. This wealth was deeply resented by large sections of the population that felt pressured by Church wealth and power and felt that Church possession of so much wealth curtailed their own economic opportunities. Of course there was also the desire to seize Church property, by a resentful Nobility and Peasantry who felt the market for buying agricultural land much reduced by the Church owning so much of it.11

If greed for Church property along with resentment of Clerical power and wealth was one part of the reason for resentment, the other was a long standing religious revival.

Beginning in the mid 14th century Bohemia had been the center of a movement of religious reform and revival centering on the reformation of the Church, by clearing away corruption and incompetence and a reformation of manners of the laity. As the 14th century went on attacks on the corruption and incompetence and greed of the institutional Church increased in frequency and vitriol. Added to this were such events as the Great Schism (1378-1420 C.E.) which divided Western Christianity over who was Pope. Some countries recognizing the Pope in Avignon as Pope and others the Pope in Rome. The resulting struggle was characterized by much brutality and corruption which reduced the prestige of the papacy to a very low level, and served to massively highlight the corruption and worldliness of the Church. The result was a renewed emphasis that the Church needed to be reformed and cleansed of corruption and purified by returning to the standards of the earliest Church. This meant in practical terms divesting the Church of its wealth, getting rid of debauched, corrupt and ignorant clergy and a re-dedication to the strict standards of early Christianity.12

Thus during this time the works of the great English theologian John Wycliffe, (c. 1325-1384 C.E.) with their call for Church reform and the stripping of the Church of its wealth, which was deemed a corrupting influence, was heard in Bohemia. Beginning in the 1390’s Wycliffe’s works were being read and considered in Bohemia.13

Added to this religious stew was the very real, proto-nationalist, resentment by the Czech people against German influence in Bohemia. The longstanding fear that the Germans would eventually destroy the Czech people. The fact that the various religious orders were dominated by Germans along with the much of the state and Church bureaucracy did not help matters. The reform movement was considered both deliberately and incidentally a way of reasserting Czech identity. The fact that the reform movement preached largely in Czech played a role also.14

The great Czech reformer Jan Hus, (c. 1372-1415 C.E.) heavily influenced by Wycliffe, as indicated by his own writings preached in Prague at the Bethlehem chapel, starting in 1402 C.E.) where deliberately the preaching was in Czech. Although he enjoyed the protection of Wenceslas IV and his wife Queen Zofie, Jan Hus was in constant trouble with other church officials and accused of heresy. His sermons, and those of his followers, attacking the Church and calling for both Church and moral reform were however popular along with his call for the Church to be stripped of its wealth. Eventually Hus was forced into exile in southern Bohemia where he passed the time giving popular outdoor sermons and writing his main theological and institutional works.15

Meanwhile the Great Schism was giving rise to in Bohemia and other places to the feeling that the last days were about to come and that the return of Jesus was imminent. This millennial expectations were both strong and popular and were shared to lesser or greater degree by Jan Hus and some of his followers.16

Hus had by this time a lot of enemies in the Church who wanted his voice to be silenced, he also had achieved for himself and his followers a formidable list of Clerical / Noble supporters in Bohemia and Moravia who were on his side.

During this a Church Council (1414-1418 C.E.) was put together, to a large extent by Sigismund, King of Hungary and German Emperor, to try to heal the Great Schism and it meet at Constance on Lake Constance next to modern day Switzerland. It did eventually succeed in healing the Great Schism by getting the 3 (yes three!) then Popes to resign and electing a new one. It also quite un-intently ignited a religious war. Sigismund was prevailed to give a safe conduct to Jan Hus so he could go there to defend his views and call for reform of the Church. There Jan Hus was arrested, tried and burned at the stake for heresy on July 6, 1415. Sigismund’s refusal to carryout his promise of safe conduct and the farcical trial, along with the argument used that promises given to heretics do not have to be kept are all morally repellent to the highest degree.17

Jan Hus at the stake
The result was disaster for the Church. Wenceslas IV and his Queen Zofie were enraged and hundreds of members of the Nobility signed a letter of protest to the council. The council’s response was to suggest that all those who had signed the letter present themselves to be tried for heresy at Constance. Not surprisingly no took up the offer.18

With the support of the King and Queen the Supporters of Jan Hus gained control of Church in Bohemia. The result was a continued struggle over the Church as the Council and Sigismund tried to regain control. Sigismund was by this time looking forward to succeeding his childless brother has King of Bohemia and  he felt he needed Church support.

The struggle of the reformers took the form of Utraquistism, from a Latin expression meaning in / under both species or kinds. It referred to the practice of giving to the laity communion in the form of both the bread and the wine. In the west this practice had almost completely disappeared by the early 15th century, replaced by simply giving the bread. However the new movement felt that the process of reform back to an earlier, purer form of Christianity required the return to giving wine to the laity. The fact that Eastern Orthodox Christianity had kept the practice also played a role in the adoption of the practice. The result was that the Chalice from which the laity received the wine became the symbol of the movement now called Hussitism from the name of its martyred founder.19

Rage against the council for the death, (actually judicial murder) of Jan Hus played a role and the rage was increased when Jerome of Prague, one of Jan Hus’ colleagues who had gone to Constance to defend Jan Hus was himself burned at the stake on May 30, 1416. C.E.20

The result was that by the end of 1416 C.E., the Hussite movement had captured the Church in Bohemia and there were already murmurs that a Crusade would have to be waged to crush the “Heretics” in Bohemia.21

The next couple of years were a long and rather tedious series of internal struggles and conflicts with the Church trying to by various means to suppress the Hussite movement and the nobility being divided and king Wenceslas IV and his wide Zofie although basically supporting the Hussite cause trying to reign in the radicals. For it was the radicals who began to define the movement.22

By early 1419 pressure from the Church, which included an economic blockade and threats to invade Bohemia in the guise of a Crusade had become very great. Inside Bohemia a wave of religious and revolutionary enthusiasm had spread through out much of the country. By this time radicals called Taborites had established themselves throughout much of southern Bohemia. There was the widespread belief that the last days had come and the second coming was approaching and that the Church of Rome was the Antichrist.23

Terrified by the forces unleashed Wenceslas IV and queen Zofie tried to reign in the Hussites. First Hussite services were restricted in Prague and regular Catholic services were allowed, (after being prohibited in reaction to Jan Hus’ murder). This increased unrest and significant opposition. On July 6th 1419 the king purged the government of the New Town, (part of Prague and a Hussite stronghold) of Hussite supporters and replaced them with anti-Hussites. Several Hussite supporters were arrested. The stage was set for a show down.24

Bust of Jan Zelivsky
Jan Zelivsky, (c. 1380-1422 C.E.), a Hussite priest and by then an important political figure in Prague was a preacher at St. Mary’s in the Snow of the few Hussite churches left in Prague and he prepared to move against the new council. Among his friends at the time was Jan Zizka, the one eyed, (later blind) future general of the Hussite armies who helped to give his blow military muscle.25

Jan Zizka

On July 26th 1419 C.E. Jan Zelivsky gave a heated sermon at St Mary’s in the Snow part of which is as follows:
Indeed, dogs in our own time eat the consecrated bread and the holy charity which belong to the poor. It is given in tumblers to sorcerers, to their servants, and to their servants and to his dogs. All those who eat the bread of the sons act against the truth just like dogs who pounce on a bone.26
Thus does Jan Zelivsky pour his contempt on the official Church and its supporters and at the end of his sermon lists the miracles that God has performed for his followers:
…Tobias healed of blindness with the gall of a fish, Daniel saved from the den of lions and Jonah from the stomach of a whale. Christ was born of a virgin, water was changed into wine, three young people were raised: the daughter of Jairus, the widow’s son at the town gate and Lazarus from his tomb. Behold, what an abundance of wonders!27
Afterwards Jan Zelivsky led a mob of people including many armed men into the street. First they went to the Church of St. Stephen and held a Hussite service there even though the church was supposedly for Catholic services. Afterwards the mob stopped in front of the town hall and demanded the release of the Hussite prisoners taken earlier in the month. Members of council tried to talk to the mob, but allegedly a stone was thrown at a priest, (perhaps Jan Zelivsky), carrying a consecrated host. The mob went hysterical and stormed the building. Several members of the council managed to escape through the back. Others were not so fortunate and were thrown out the windows where those that survived were finished off by the mob with Jan Zelivsky urging them on. About 13 council members were killed over all.28

Prague in 1419 with the route of the crowd
After this episode the coup went according to plan with armed forces of the Hussites, led by Jan Zizka among others, taking over the New Town of Prague and a new Hussite city council installed.29

The pro-Hussite council of the Old Town of Prague and various Hussite supporters of the royal court apparently went along with the coup or actively took part in it. Wenceslas IV was enraged and apparently had a stroke. It appears that he came around to accept the fait accompli but on August 16, 1419 he had another stoke and died.30

There was a problem Wenceslas IV’s heir was his brother Sigismund, who was, not surprisingly, considered responsible for the murders of Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague, who had made repeated statements about crushing heresy in Bohemia and whose entire political career indicated that he was not to be trusted given his continual intrigues, to say nothing about his broken promise to Jan Hus, against his brother Wenceslas IV. Unfortunately his undoubted legitimate claim to the Bohemian throne along with the fear of radical Hussitism gave Sigismund a firm foothold in Bohemia. The result was the truly terrible Hussite wars (1419-1434 C.E.) characterized by revolting brutality and no less than 5 Crusades against the Hussites all of which failed. It was a combination of civil war, Crusade, war of national independence on the part of the Czechs, social revolution, dynastic war and pillaging expeditions.31

Concerning some of the people mentioned in this posting; Jan Zelivsky was executed in 1422 in the midst of faction fighting for the control of Prague. Jan Ziska died in 1424 while besieging a fortress.32

During the war the Czech Hussites created a truly frightening and effective war machine, largely through the genius of the one eyed and later blind Czech general Jan Ziska. Eventually a combination of internal disorder among the Hussite and the failure to crush the Hussites militarily forced the acceptance of a compromise peace. Eventually Sigismund was accepted as king, (in 1436 C.E.), he did not enjoy his kingdom long and died in 1437 C.E., duplicitous to the end.33

Perhaps at another time I will post some more about the Hussite Wars which were in many respects a dress rehearsal for both the Reformation and the Religious wars that followed.

1. Those plastic things at the end of shoe laces.

2. A friend of mine out of the blue used the word in conversation, correctly I might add. Aside from that case I’ve never heard the word in conversation ever.

3. Wedgewoood, C.V., The Thirty Years War, Penguin Books, London, 1938, pp. 73-75. Parker, Geoffrey Editor, The Thirty Years War, Second Edition, Routledge, London, 1997, p. 43, Polisensky, J. V., The Thirty Years War, New English Library, London, 1971, pp. 103-105.

4. Polisensky, pp. 31-32, Parker, p. 7, Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of the Millennium, Revised Edition, Oxford University Press, 1970, pp. 205-213.

5. Heymann, Frederick G., John Zizka and the Hussite Revolution, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1955, map p. 2, see also Czech Lands in Wikipedia, Here.

6.Heymann, pp. 38-39, Kaminsky, Howard, The Hussite Revolution, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 1967, pp. 7-9.

7. Heymann, pp. 23-29.

8. IBID, pp. 36-38, See Wenceslaus, King of the Romans in Wikipedia Here.

9. Heymann, pp. 28-29, 36-38.

10. IBID, p. 39, Cohn p. 205.

11. IBID, pp. 39-43, Kaminsky, pp. 33-34.

12. Kaminsky, pp. 5-55.

13. Kaminsky, pp. 23-35.

14. Kaminsky, pp. 7-22, 35-55, Heymann, pp. 51-60.

15. IBID, Cohn, pp. 205-212. See also Hus, Jan, Letters of Jan Hus, William Whyte and Co. Edinburgh, 1996.

16. IBID, Kaminsky, pp.161-179, 310-360.

17. Heymann, pp. 56-58, Jan Hus, in Wikipedia Here, Lutzow, Count, The Hussite Wars, J.M. Dent and Sons, London, 1914, pp. 1-4.

18. Heymann, pp. 50-51. The number of signatories was 452 and included practically all the higher Czech nobility.

19. Kaminsky, pp. 97-126.

20. Heymann, p. 58, Bernard, Paul P., Jerome of Prague, Austria and the Hussites, Church History, V. 27, No. 1, March, 1958, pp. 3-22.

21. Fudge, Thomas A., Editor, The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437, Ashgate, Bodmin Cornwall, 2002, pp. 14-21, Lutzow, pp. 3-9.

22. Heymann, pp. 61-63, Kaminsky, pp. 265-278.

23. Cohn, pp. 205-215, Kaminsky, pp. 310-360.

24. See Footnote 22.

25. Heymann, pp. 62-63, Kaminsky, pp. 271-278.

26. Fudge, p. 23.

27. Fudge, pp. 24-25.

28. Kaminsky, 289-297, Heymann, pp. 63-65.

29. IBID.

30. Heymann, p. 66.

31. See Lutzow, Fudge Introduction, pp. 1-13, and contents, Cohn pp. 221-222 and Heymann and Kaminsky.

33. Heymann, pp. 314-315, 438-440, Lutzow, pp. 127-128, 174-175, Kaminsky, p. 460.

33. Fudge, pp. 341-401, Lutzow, pp. 337-363.

Pierre Cloutier

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