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The Prague Defenestration of 1419

At the end of June 1419 an interesting confrontation took place in a heated atmosphere. The New Town Hussites, under the leadership of Nicholas of Hus and probably at the instigation of Jan Želivský, stopped their ruler right on a Prague street! These subjects of the king demanded a return to the conditions before the February decree. In particular, it was about handing most of the shrines back to the Hussites and the possibility of Holy Communion for children.

Anti-Hussite measures
However, Wenceslas IV, after the bad experiences of his life with the double captivity and the revolt of the nobles, was not going to accept the pressure from the Hussites, whom he had helped and protected so many times. Feeling betrayed, he decided to take decisive action against the Hussites in New Town. He had Nicholas of Hus expelled from Prague and on 6 July, the anniversary of Hus‘ burning, he completely replaced the mostly Hussite council of New Town. He saw the city’s representation as the main cause of all the troubles.

The new New Town councillors were chosen very carefully by the king, and their loyalty was important. They took action immediately. Several well-known Hussite troublemakers ended up in the town hall prison, Hussite pupils were expelled from parish schools and Hussite processions were banned. This ban was especially directed against the radical preacher Želivský. Václav considered the council change a success, so he considered taking the same step in the Old Town and Lesser Town. This, of course, did not escape the Hussites, who decided to counter this by allying with non-Praguean Hussite leaders who organized pilgrimages to the mountains.

A new alliance
On 22 July, the followers of the chalice met on the hill of Tabor near Bechyně (not to be confused with the town of Tabor) to confirm their alliance. In addition to the Prague radicals, Hussites from Hradec Králové, Pilsen and Domažlice were also present. Moravians were also present, so there could have been up to 40,000 people in total. However, there were also scouts sent by the New Town constables, who, among other things, heard the plan for the Prague Pro-Hussite demonstration, prepared for Sunday 30 July 1419.

The concrete outlines of the manifestation were given in closed-door meetings. Who represented Prague at the secret meeting? Although we do not know the names, we can assume from the course of subsequent events that the representation was wide and varied. The New Town was probably represented by the recalled constables, perhaps even by priests close to Želivský. It cannot be ruled out that some people from the king’s entourage were also present, as well as people from the Hussite community of the Old Town and Lesser Town, where there were fears of a possible change of consuls. The aim of the planned demonstration, as it later turned out, was the return of the New Town of Prague to the Hussites. At the same time, it was to be part of the pressure on the king to move away from the decisive action against the Hussites. The Prague radicals took their cue from a year earlier event in Wrocław, where there had also been a violent upheaval in the city council.

A well-thought-out plan
Although Hussite processions were forbidden by the king’s decree of February, Jan Želivský led a large procession of Hussites on that fateful Sunday. And there were armed men in the procession! What intentions could Želivský have had with these people? Equally telling is the participation of Jan Žižka, who, according to sources, was „the helper of the most peculiar King Wenceslas“. What was a prominent member of the king’s court doing at an anti-royal demonstration? A few hours later, the real reason was revealed. Žižka probably personally led the gunmen in the attack on the New Town Hall. And he wasn’t the only royal courtier involved!

The fact that the whole event was well prepared and organized is evidenced by several other not insignificant facts. There was no pogrom, no looting, no robbery, and no dishonouring of the slain councillors, which would undoubtedly have happened in a lively event. And although Jan Bechyně, the then sub-chamberlain (i.e. the ruler’s representative in the administration of the royal towns) and a Hussite, had sufficient military force, he did not intervene against the invaders. Although he probably knew about the action, he somehow failed to arrive on the scene in time. After the massacre, he laconically stated that nothing could be done and left. Simply put, there can be no doubt that the first Prague defenestration was carefully planned in advance.


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