Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. The term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618, which became the spark that started the Thirty Years' War. This was done in "good Bohemian style" and referred to the defenestration which had occurred in the same city's City Hall almost 200 years earlier (July 1419), which also at that occasion led to war, the Hussite war. The word comes from the New Latin de- (out of or away from) and fenestra (window or opening). Likewise, it can also refer to the condition of being thrown out of a window, as in "The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch".
While the act of defenestration connotes the forcible or peremptory removal of an adversary, and the term is sometimes used in just that sense, it also suggests breaking the windows in the process (de- also means removal). Although defenestrations can be fatal depending on the height of the window through which a person is thrown or throws oneself or due to lacerations from broken glass, the act of defenestration need not carry the intent of, or result in, death.
Origin of the term
In 1618, two Imperial governors and their secretary were tossed from Prague Castle, sparking the Thirty Years War. These incidents, particularly in 1618, were referred to as the Defenestrations of Prague and gave rise to the term and the concept.
Historically, the word defenestration referred to an act of political dissent. Notably, the Defenestrations of Prague in 1419 and 1618 helped to trigger prolonged conflict within Bohemia and beyond. Some Catholics ascribed the survival of those defenestrated at Prague Castle in 1618 to divine intervention.
- As recorded in the book of Kings II in the Bible, Jezebel was defenestrated at Jezreel by her own servants at the urging of Jehu. (2 Kings 9: 33)
- In chapter 20 verses 6 through 12 of The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament the accidental autodefenestration of a young man of Troas named Eutychus is recorded. The Apostle Paul was travelling to Jerusalem and had stopped for 7 days in Troas. While preaching in a third-story room late on a Sunday night to the local assembly of Christian believers, the young man Eutychus drifted off to sleep and fell out of the window in which he was sitting. Interestingly, this incident is likely also the only recorded case of raising from death after fatal defenestration, as though Eutychus was taken up dead from the ground below, the Apostle Paul fell upon the body, embraced it, and then presented him alive to those present, whom the Bible indicates "were not a little comforted." (KJV) (Acts 20:6-12)
- It has been suggested by several chronicles (notably the Annals of Westhide Abbey) that King John killed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, by defenestration from the castle at Rouen, France, in 1203.
- In 1378, the crafts and their leader Wouter van der Leyden occupied the Leuven city hall. They took over the Leuven government. Most of the patricians left the city and fled to Aarschot. After negotiations between the parties, they agreed to share the government. The patricians did not accept this easily, as they lost their absolute power. Trying to turn the tide, they had Wouter van der Leyden assassinated in Brussels. The crafts wanted revenge. They handed over the patrician to a furious crowd. The crowd stormed the city hall and threw the patricians out of the window. At least 15 patricians were killed during this defenestration of Leuven.
- In 1383, Bishop Dom Martinho was defenestrated by the citizens of Lisbon, having been suspected of conspiring with the enemy when Lisbon was besieged by the Castilians.
- In 1419 Hussite mob defenestrates a judge, the burgomaster, and some thirteen members of the town council of Prague.
- In 1452, King James II of Scotland murdered William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas, with his own hands and threw him out the window at Stirling Castle.
- On April 26, 1478, after the failure of the "Pazzi conspiracy" to murder the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de' Medici, Jacopo de' Pazzi was defenestrated.
- In 1483, Prague's Old-Town portreeve and the bodies of seven murdered New-Town aldermen were defenestrated.
- On May 16, 1562, Adham Khan, Akbar's general and foster brother, was defenestrated twice for murdering a rival general, Ataga Khan, who had been recently promoted by Akbar. Akbar was woken up in the tumult after the murder. He struck Adham Khan down personally with his fist and immediately ordered his defenestration by royal order. The first time, his legs were broken as a result of the 12 meter fall from the ramparts of Agra Fort but he remained alive. Akbar, in a rare act of cruelty probably exacerbated by his anger at the loss of his favorite general, ordered his defenestration a second time, killing him. Adham Khan had wrongly counted on the influence of his mother and Akbar's wet nurse, Maham Anga, to save him as she was almost an unofficial regent in the days of Akbar's youth. Akbar personally informed Maham Anga of her son's death, to which she famously commented, 'You have done well.' She died 40 days later of acute depression.
- In 1572, French King Charles IX's friend, the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny, was killed in accordance with the wishes of Charles' mother, Catherine de' Medici. Charles had allegedly said "then kill them all that no man be left to reproach me". Thousands of Huguenots were killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre after soldiers attacked Coligny in his house, stabbed him, and threw him out the window.
- In 1618, rebel Protestant leaders in Prague defenestrate two Catholic regents and their secretary, who survived the 68 foot fall.
- On the morning of December 1, 1640, in Lisbon, a group of supporters of the Duke of Braganza party found Miguel de Vasconcelos, the hated Portuguese Secretary of State of the Habsburg Philip III, hidden in a closet, killed him and defenestrated him. His corpse was left to the public outrage.
- On June 11, 1903, a group of Serbian army officers murdered and defenestrated King Alexander and Queen Draga.
- In 1922, Italian politician and writer Gabriele d'Annunzio was temporarily crippled after falling from a window, possibly pushed by a follower of Benito Mussolini.
- On March 10, 1948, the Czechoslovakian minister of foreign affairs Jan Masaryk was found dead, in his pajamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry below his bathroom window. The initial investigation stated that he committed suicide by jumping out of the window, although some believe that he was murdered by the ascendant Communists. A 2004 police investigation into his death concluded that, contrary to the initial ruling, he did not commit suicide, but was defenestrated, most likely by Czechoslovak Communists and their Soviet NKVD advisers for opposing the February 1948 Communist putsch.
- On November 28, 1953, the U.S. biological warfare specialist Frank Olson died after a fall from a hotel window that may have been an assassination.
- On April 15, 1966, two suspects in the so-called Bathroom Coup in Sri Lanka, Corporal Tilekawardene and L. V. Podiappuhamy (otherwise known as Dodampe Mudalali), were said by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to have jumped to their deaths from the fourth floor of the CID building in the Fort. At the inquest, following receipt of new evidence, the magistrate altered the verdict of suicide to one of culpable homicide. The remainder of the suspects were acquitted.
- In 1968, the son of China's future paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Deng Pufang, was thrown from a window by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
- In 1977, as a result of political backlash against his album Zombie, Fela Kuti's mother was thrown from a window during a military raid on his compound, the Kalakuta Republic by 1,000 Nigerian soldiers. The injuries sustained from the fall led to her death days later. In addition, the commanding officer defecated on her head, while the soldiers burned down the compound, destroying his musical equipment, studio and master tapes, and jailing him for being a subversive.
- In 1991, British informer Martin McGartland threw himself from the window of a tower block after being abducted by members of the Provisional IRA. As he waited to be interrogated, tortured and subsequently executed, McGartland escaped being assassinated by the IRA by jumping from a third floor window in a Twinbrook flat where he had been taken for interrogation following his abduction.
- On July 9, 1993, the prominent Toronto attorney Garry Hoy fell from a window in a playful attempt to demonstrate to a group of new legal interns that the windows of the city's Toronto-Dominion Centre were effectively unbreakable. He had performed the same stunt on several previous occasions – dramatically slamming his body against the window – but this time it popped out of its frame and he fell to his death. The accident was later commemorated for its unusual nature by a 1996 Darwin Award and has been re-enacted in several films and television shows.
- On October 26, 1997, NBA player Charles Barkley was arrested for hurling a bar patron through a plate-glass window after the man tossed a glass of ice at him.
- On April 1, 2003, Hong Kong superstar Leslie Cheung took suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the centre of Hong Kong, mentioning "depression" in a note.
- The 2000 Ramallah lynching included throwing the (already-dead) body of either Vadim Nurzhitz or Yossi Avrahami out of a second-floor window, after those two Israeli soldiers had been lynched.
- On March 2, 2007, Russian investigative journalist Ivan Safronov, who was researching the Kremlin's covert arms deals, fell to his death from a fifth floor window. Friends and colleagues discount suicide as a reason and an investigation was opened looking into possible "incitement to suicide".
- In 2007 in Gaza, gunmen allegedly affiliated with Hamas killed a Fatah supporter by defenestration, an act repeated the next day when a Hamas supporter was defenestrated by alleged supporters of Fatah.
Self-defenestration (jumping out of a window)
Self-defenestration (autodefenestration) is the act of jumping, propelling oneself, or causing oneself to fall, out of a window. This phenomenon played a notable role in such events as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, and other disasters. In December 1840, Abraham Lincoln and four other Illinois legislators jumped out of a window in a political maneuver designed to prevent a quorum on a vote that would have eliminated the Illinois State Bank. During the Revolutions of 1848, an agitated crowd forced their way into the town hall in Cologne and two city councillors panicked and jumped out of the window; one of them broke both his legs. The event went down in the city’s history as the "Cologne Defenestration".
Self-defenestration is also a method of suicide. In the United States, self-defenestration is among the least common methods of committing suicide (less than 2% of all reported suicides in the United States for 2005).
In Hong Kong, jumping (from any location) is the most common method of committing suicide, accounting for 52.1% of all reported suicide cases in 2006, and similar rates for the years prior to that. The Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong believes that it may be due to the abundance of easily accessible high-rise buildings in Hong Kong (implying that much of the jumping is out of windows or from roof tops). Recent notables choosing this method of suicide include actor Leslie Cheung. Population density is such that it is not uncommon for the defenestratee to kill or maim a passerby upon arrival at the pavement below.
- In A Clockwork Orange (1971), as in the 1962 novella, the character of Alex is locked in a room above a loudly played Beethoven symphony, which he finds so torturous that he hurls himself out of a window to near-death.
- In Sharky's Machine (1981), Billy Score is gunned down by Sharky, crashing through a window and plummeting to his death 700 feet below.
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Friar Tuck admonishes the Bishop for his sins and then pushes him through a stained glass window.
- In The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), a manufacturing company's founder and president, Waring Hudsucker, commits suicide during a business meeting by jumping through a window of an office building
- In Braveheart (1995), Edward Longshanks flings his son's homosexual lover through a non-glass window to his death.
- In The Matrix (1999), Morpheus breaks free from shackles and leaps out a skyscraper window into Neo's arms.
- In Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Palpatine kills Mace Windu by blasting him through a window with lightning from his fingertips.
- In Fantastic Four (2005), Doctor Doom lunges at The Thing and smashes him through a window, going out the window with him.
- In Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008), the protagonist, Martin McGartland, throws himself out of a window several storeys high in a block of flats to escape torture and execution by Provisional IRA interrogators.
- In Watchmen (2009), a masked man kills Eddie Blake by throwing him out of the window of a high-rise apartment.
- In Limitless (2011), the protagonist Eddie Morra blinds one of Gennady's thugs in self-defence, then lunges at him with a grand piano, throwing him out of a window.
- In The Avengers (2012), the Hulk tosses the evil god Loki through a window. Loki also throws Tony Stark out a window in a prior scene.
- In Mortdecai (2015), prior to ejecting himself through a window, Mortdecai remarks that his manservant is requesting his "immediate self-defenestration."
- In his poem Defenestration, R.P. Lister wrote with amusement over the creation of so exalted a word for so basic a concept. The poem narrates the thoughts of a philosopher undergoing defenestration. As he falls, the philosopher considers why there should be a particular word for the experience, when many equally simple concepts don't have specific names. In an evidently ironic commentary on the word, Lister has the philosopher summarize his thoughts with, "I concluded that the incidence of logodaedaly was purely adventitious."
- The play Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo was inspired by the death of Giuseppe Pinelli while being held by the Milan police.
- There is a range of hacker witticisms referring to "defenestration". For example, the term is sometimes used humorously among GNU/Linux users to describe the act of removing Microsoft Windows from a computer.
- In the British soap opera EastEnders, the murderer Joe Macer dies after he is accidentally pushed through a window by Jim Branning, protecting his wife, Dot Branning.
- In the British comedy series The IT Crowd, prominent businessman Denholm Reynholm autodefenestrates in reaction to the news that he is wanted by the police to "answer some questions" about his company's pension fund.
- In Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, Texas Longford was pushed out of a window by 'Creepy' Will Savage.
- In the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000, while watching The Screaming Skull, Tom Servo quips "Can I interest you in some defenestration?" as the main character's husband leads her towards a window.
- In the television series 24: Live Another Day, Jack Bauer defenestrates Margot Al-Harazi as an act of retribution for the day's terrorist attacks.
- In the Sci-Fi sitcom Red Dwarf, Dave Lister is thrown through a pub window, however, due to it being in a parallel universe where time travels backwards, the broken window becomes fixed.
- In the television series Game of Thrones, as in the book, Sir Jamie Lannister pushes the seven year old Bran Stark out of a glassless window after saying "The things I do for love." Much later in the series, his own son (Tommen) leaps to his death.
- In the television series Hannibal, Dr. Alana Bloom is thrown through the window of Hannibal Lecter's Baltimore home in the Season 2 finale. When she's first seen in the hospital in Season 3, she says, "I've always enjoyed the word 'defenestration.' Now I get to use it in casual conversation." Later, in season 3, Hannibal pushes a man out the museum window so that an extension cord hangs him by the neck as his sliced abdomen empties his internal organs to the ground beneath.
- In the television series "Lost", John Locke is pushed through the window of a high rise building by his own father, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Swedish encyclopedia NE2000, digital version, article "defenestrestrationerna i Prag"
- same ref.; "New Latin" could be said to be the collection of "Latin" words which wasn't in use by the Romans
- Douglas Harper (2001). "defenestration". Online Etymological Dictionary.
- Arthur C. Clarke; Tales from the White Hart, Ballantine Books, 1957
- Caracas Metromayor’s ‘Political Defenestration’
- Abu Fazl, Akbarnama
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- Claims of 'incitement to suicide' after journalist falls to his death
- Palestinian gunmen target Haniyeh's home in Gaza, Associated Press, 11/06/2007
- Demmer, Manfred (2008-03-26). "Der 'Kölner Fenstersturz' 1848". Neue Rheinische Zeitung (in German).
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- After the 1929 stock market crash, did investors really jump out of windows?
- R. P. Lister; Defenestration; The New Yorker, 16 September 1956.
- J. M. Cohen (Ed.); Yet more comic and curious verse; Penguin Books (1959)
- Eric S. Raymond The New Hacker's Dictionary Publisher: MIT Press 1996 ISBN 978-0-262-68092-9
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