By: Matt WelchPublished: July 30, 2022

Jan Želivský

There are certain words so perfect in their degree of obscurity, so technically precise in dryly describing such a definitionally insane event, that you just gotta hand it to the people who goosed their etymology, regardless of how many eggs got broken in the process. Such is the word defenestration, such is the legacy of Jan Želivský.

On this day in 1419, Želivský, an apocalyptic Czech priest and early acolyte of the wild-eyed pre-Protestant reformer Jan Hus (who had been burned at the stake four years prior by an irony-resistant Church), led a procession of co-religionists through the streets of Prague to the town hall, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of several Hussites. The city councilmen, from up in their fancy office windows (or, fenestrare, one might say in Latin) greeted the marchers with hoots of derision and hails of stones, one of which struck Father Želivský. Bad move.

The infuriated Hussites stormed city hall, grabbed the burgomaster, judge, and several city councilmen, and, well, threw them out of the window to their deaths. King Wenceslas the IV was said to be so shocked by the violence that he himself soon croaked.

The next 15 years of Hussite Wars (or—cute!—Bohemian Wars) were a particularly nasty business; Želivský was decapitated by the apparently unforgiving Prague authorities three years later, various Hussite factions turned against each other, Poles and Lithuanians got roped in, more than a million Czechs died, and Bohemia was laid to waste.

But! Man, did we get a fun word! And the spirit and names of Hus, Želivský, and many of their reformist ilk remain very much alive in 21st century Bohemia. Suck it, Holy Roman Empire!


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