Sometimes wars get started in odd ways, especially in times when etiquette and monarchies still ruled the day. But the weirdest start to a war probably happened in 1618 in Prague. Like many disputes, this one revolved around religion. The previous year, Roman Catholic officials had closed Protestant churches in their territories, which violated a document called the Letter of Majesty. That letter guaranteed religious freedom.
So an assembly of the Protestants of Prague was called, with four Catholic Lords Regent put on trial for violating the Letter of Majesty. Two of them were declared “too pious” to have done anything wrong, and sent on their merry way. However, the remaining two claimed responsibility and were promptly thrown out a window along with their secretary. They survived the 70 foot fall with little by way of injuries, a fact that Catholics attributed to angels or intercession from the Virgin Mary. Later pamphlets put out by Protestants changed the story to say that the Catholics only survived thanks to falling into a dung heap.
Amazingly, the man who ordered the defenestration, Philip Fabricius, was ennobled with the title Baron von Hohenfall (literally “Baron of Highfall”).
So what does all this have to do with a war? It instigated a Bohemian revolt against the emperor, but that didn’t garner them much support. The Catholics regained power in the first battle of the Thirty Years’ War, The Battle of White Mountain. From there things went downhill quickly, but the Defenestration of Prague is remembered as one of the first openly hostile acts between Catholics and Protestants leading to the war.
Even more amazing than the fact that throwing two men out a window was the catalyst for a bloody and extended war is the fact that this wasn’t the first time it happened. The First Defenestration of Prague was actually considerably more vicious than the second. In 1419, a crowd of Hussites stormed the town hall in Prague, demanding the return of Hussite prisoners. The city council refused, so the Hussites threw seven of them out a window. Due to the fact that there was a crowd holding spears outside, this defenestration was fatal to all involved. As with the second and more famous defenestration, this one proved the turning point between discontent and action and led to the Hussite Wars.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t throw someone out a window in Prague unless you want to start a war.