The Bohemian Revolt (1618–1620) was an uprising of the Bohemian estates against the rule of the Habsburg dynasty, in particular Emperor Ferdinand II, which triggered the Thirty Years’ War.
- Describe the events surrounding the Defenestration of Prague
- Since 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia had been governed by Catholic Habsburg kings who were tolerant of their largely Protestant subjects.
- Toward the end his reign, Emperor Matthias, realizing he would die without an heir, arranged for his lands to go to his nearest male relative, the staunchly Catholic Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria.
- Protestants in Bohemia were wary of Ferdinand reversing the religious tolerance and freedom formerly established by the Peace of Augsburg.
- In 1618, Ferdinand’s royal representatives were thrown out of a window and seriously injured in the so-called Defenestration of Prague, which provoked open Protestant revolt in Bohemia.
- The dispute culminated after several battles in the final Battle of White Mountain, where the Protestants suffered a decisive defeat. This started re-Catholicization of the Czech lands, but also triggered the Thirty Years’ War, which spread to the rest of Europe and devastated vast areas of central Europe, including the Czech lands.
- defenestrationThe act of throwing someone out of a window.
- Bohemian RevoltAn uprising of the Bohemian estates against the rule of the Habsburg dynasty.
In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg had settled religious disputes in the Holy Roman Empire by enshrining the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio, allowing a prince to determine the religion of his subjects. Since 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia had been governed by Habsburg kings who did not force their Catholic religion on their largely Protestant subjects. In 1609, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1576–1612), increased Protestant rights. He was increasingly viewed as unfit to govern, and other members of the Habsburg dynasty declared his younger brother, Matthias, to be family head in 1606. Upon Rudolf’s death, Matthias succeeded in the rule of Bohemia.
Without heirs, Emperor Matthias sought to assure an orderly transition during his lifetime by having his dynastic heir (the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand of Styria, later Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor) elected to the separate royal thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. Ferdinand was a proponent of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and not well-disposed to Protestantism or Bohemian freedoms. Some of the Protestant leaders of Bohemia feared they would be losing the religious rights granted to them by Emperor Rudolf II in his Letter of Majesty (1609). They preferred the Protestant Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate (successor of Frederick IV, the creator of the Protestant Union). However, other Protestants supported the stance taken by the Catholics, and in 1617 Ferdinand was duly elected by the Bohemian Estates to become the Crown Prince and, automatically upon the death of Matthias, the next King of Bohemia.
The Defenestration of Prague
The king-elect then sent two Catholic councillors (Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice) as his representatives to Hradčany castle in Prague in May 1618. Ferdinand had wanted them to administer the government in his absence. On May 23, 1618, an assembly of Protestants seized them and threw them (and also secretary Philip Fabricius) out of the palace window, which was some sixty-nine feet off the ground. Remarkably, though injured, they survived. This event, known as the Defenestration of Prague, started the Bohemian Revolt. Soon afterward, the Bohemian conflict spread through all of the Bohemian Crown, including Bohemia, Silesia, Upper and Lower Lusatia, and Moravia. Moravia was already embroiled in a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The religious conflict eventually spread across the whole continent of Europe, involving France, Sweden, and a number of other countries.
Defenestration of Prague
A later woodcut of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, which triggered the Thirty Years’ War.
Immediately after the defenestration, the Protestant estates and Catholic Habsburgs started gathering allies for war. After the death of Matthias in 1619, Ferdinand II was elected Holy Roman Emperor. At the same time, the Bohemian estates deposed Ferdinand as King of Bohemia (Ferdinand remained emperor, since the titles are separate) and replaced him with Frederick V, Elector Palatine, a leading Calvinist and son-in-law of the Protestant James VI and I, King of Scotland, England, and Ireland.
Because they deposed a properly chosen king, the Protestants could not gather the international support they needed for war. Just two years after the Defenestration of Prague, Ferdinand and the Catholics regained power in the Battle of White Mountain on November 8, 1620. This became known as the first battle in the Thirty Years’ War.
This was a serious blow to Protestant ambitions in the region. As the rebellion collapsed, the widespread confiscation of property and suppression of the Bohemian nobility ensured the country would return to the Catholic side after more than two centuries of Protestant dissent.
There was plundering and pillaging in Prague for weeks following the battle. Several months later, twenty-seven nobles and citizens were tortured and executed in the Old Town Square. Twelve of their heads were impaled on iron hooks and hung from the Bridge Tower as a warning. This also contributed to catalyzing the Thirty Years’ War.