Defenestration: A Short History

On December 28, 2014 by Tim Newman

Defenestration 2

Fenestration means an opening in the walls of a structure. When we’re talking about architecture it means the design, construction, or presence of openings in a building. So you’d think that defenestration would mean either closing up openings or simply breaking windows. But defenestration is much, much cooler than that, it actually means throwing something or someone out of a window.

Defenestration, I would imagine, is as old as fenestration, but the fact that there is a specific word for it seems a bit OTT. The term defenestration found itself in common use thanks to a couple of highly publicised historical incidents in Prague where some important folks found themselves being lobbed out of windows.

Defenestration - autodefenestration

In 1419, seven Prague officials were thrown from the Town Hall which brought on the Hussite War. In 1618, two Imperial governors and their secretary were tossed from Prague Castle, sparking the Thirty Years War. These two willful acts of people-chucking became known as the Defenestrations of Prague and the word was suddenly thrust into the English vernacular.

Although it was the Prague defenestrations which brought the word into common use, there have, of course, been plenty of examples of defenestrations before and since. I’ve gathered together a few such examples for your general amusement:


Defenestration - Jezebel - Gustave Dore

The Death of Jezebel by Gustave Dore

Princess Jezebel was an unlikable 9th century Biblical character, she was married to King Ahab (nothing to do with the white whale) and caused a right nuisance of herself. She was all about worshiping the graven images of dodgy Pagan Gods and persecuted the followers of Jaweh. She used her political and regal power to put people to death in order to steal their lands. She was a baddie. God did not take kindly to her mucking about and stuck his oar in.

Her husband, Ahab, died in battle and was succeeded by his son Ahazia who died in an accident soon after, leaving the throne for his brother Joram. The prophet Elisha commanded Jeru, the leader of the Joram’s army to become king and destroy Ahab’s descendants. Joram was first to face death and was shot with an arrow.

Jezebel was next in line to be slaughtered for being so naughty. Jezebel heard that Jeru was en route and decided to put on her wig and a spot of lippy / rouge. This is why she has become known as a “painted lady“; despite her reputation for loose morals, she wasn’t actually a lady of the night as is often presumed.

Jeru ordered her servants to throw her out of the window, which they did. Jeru spread her blood about the room and then trampled on her corpse with his horse, before leaving her body to be eaten by wild dogs.

Arthur of Brittany

Defenestration - Arthur of Brittany

According to some sources, in 1203, King John killed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, by defenestration from the castle at Rouen, France.

Abraham Lincoln

Defenestration - Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, in an odd political shimmy, jumped from a window with some other Illinois legislators in 1840. It was an attempt to prevent a quorum on a vote to resume specie payment that endangered the reserves of the Illinois State Bank.

On December 5, 1840, Democrats…

…proposed an early adjournment, knowing this would bring a speedy end to the State Bank. The Whigs tried to counter by leaving the capitol building before the vote, but the doors were locked. That’s when Lincoln made his move. He headed for the second story, opened a window and jumped to the ground.

It didn’t work.

Chopin’s Piano

Defenestration - Frederic Chopin

During the Polish uprising in 1863 Russian troops threw Chopin’s piano out of a second storey window. Shortly before the incident, Chopin had fled the country forever, so he was unhurt in the musical mayhem.


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