This is a difficult word to find in many otherwise excellent dictionaries; its source is the French word fenêtre meaning window. The act of defenestration means the throwing of an object, which might be a person, out of a window. Scenes of this violent act occur in Polanski’s film The Pianist, in which a terrified Jewish family watch a Gestapo raid on a flat in a building on the other side of the street. They see the Nazis pick up an old man stuck in a wheelchair, open a french window on to a balcony, and hurl the man in his wheelchair four stories into the street below.
This kind of thing seems to be popular with filmmakers, since Mel Gibson includes the defenestration of a young friend of Edward I’s son Edward the Prince of Wales, straight out of a castle embrasure down to the cobbles below. This is not historical, merely a means by which Mr Gibson (who notoriously dislikes the English) can define what he sees as the character of Edward I in an early scene in the film Braveheart.
The defenestration of Prague happened in 1618. It was a demonstration, a dramatic gesture made by Czech Protestants against the authority (and religion) of the Habsburg emperors in Czech territory. An angry group of knights and senior nobles entered Prague Castle and started an argument with two Councillors, Martinic and Slavata and their secretary. The dispute ended when the knights picked up the two councillors and their secretary and threw them out of a high window. The nobles’ intention was to kill the three unfortunates, but luckily they landed on piles of rubbish immediately below the fenêtre which were soft enough to break their fall.
This happening was so rare that it entered the history books. People thrown out of high windows do not normally survive. The nobles were not satisfied. They soon deposed Ferdinand II from Bohemia’s throne and replaced him with Frederick V of the Palatinate. This did not work either and the stage was set for the Battle of the White Mountain (1620). This was the conflict in which Maximilian I of Bavaria (q.v.), on behalf of the deposed Ferdinand II, smashed the disorganised rabble of Frederick V, and finished what was left of Czech independence for another three hundred years.
Frederick escaped with his life and ran away. Ferdinand re-mounted the throne and proceeded to execute or at least expel all those who had led this last attempt by Czech Protestants to worship in their own Faith. I do not know how many victims were killed by defenestration, but this battle was to be the first of many in the notorious and sanguinary Thirty Years War.