Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window.[1] The term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618. The word comes from the Latin de- (out of or away from) and fenestra (window or opening).[2] Likewise, it can also refer to the condition of being thrown out of a window, as in "The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch".[3]

While the act of defenestration connotes the forcible or peremptory removal of an adversary, and the term is sometimes used in just that sense,[4] it also suggests breaking the windows in the process (de- also means removal). Although defenestrations can be fatal due to 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 or result of death.

Origin of the term

The term originates from two incidents in history, both occurring in Prague. In 1419, seven town officials were thrown from the Town Hall, precipitating the Hussite War. 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.

The word root derives from Latin fenestra for "window".

Notable defenestrations in history

The defenestration of the Biblical Queen Jezebel at Jezreel, by Gustave Doré

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 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.[5]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In December 1840, Abraham Lincoln and a couple of other Illinois legislators jumped out of a window in a belated political maneuver designed to prevent a quorum on a vote to resume specie payment that endangered the reserves of the Illinois State Bank.
  • On June 27, 1844, an armed mob with blackened faces stormed Carthage Jail where Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith were being held. Hyrum, who was trying to secure the door, was killed instantly with a shot to the face. Smith fired a pepper-box pistol, then sprang for the window. He was shot multiple times before falling out the window, crying, "Oh Lord my God!" He died shortly after hitting the ground, but was shot several times more before the mob dispersed.
  • The Revolutions of 1848 led to unrest in the German states. When an agitated crowd forced their way into the town hall in Cologne on March 3, 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".
  • During the Polish January 1863 Uprising, Russian troops threw Frédéric Chopin's piano out of a second-story apartment. The incident was famously memorialized in Polish poet Cyprian Norwid's poem, "Chopin's Piano". The composer had left Warsaw and Poland forever shortly before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising.
  • On June 11, 1903, a group of Serbian army officers murdered and defenestrated King Alexander and Queen Draga.
  • In 1911, during the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, numerous fatalities were people who leapt or fell out of windows to their death.
  • In 1922, Italian politician and writer Gabriele d'Annunzio was temporarily crippled after being pushed out a window by an unknown assailant.
  • On February 4, 1946, Serbian General and politician Milan Nedić died in a fall from the window of a prison where he was awaiting trial for treason for supporting the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia. Newspapers reported it to be a suicide.
  • 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 fell through a window in what may have been an assassination.
  • On April 15, 1966, two alleged 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.[6] 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.
  • Shortly before midnight on December 15, 1969, the Italian anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli was seen falling to his death from a fourth floor window of the Milan police station.
  • 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.[7]
  • In 1993, Toronto lawyer Garry Hoy fell to his death after attempting to demonstrate the strength of his office tower's windows.
  • On November 4, 1995, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze committed suicide by throwing himself from his apartment window.
  • 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.[8]
  • 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 September 11, 2001, the September 11 attacks caused over 200 people to jump or fall from windows, to die by falling rather than from the fires inside the World Trade Center buildings.[9] Some of the falls were broadcast on the news.
  • 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".[10]
  • 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.[11]
  • In 2009, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission held several witnesses overnight for questioning. One witness, Teoh Beng Hock, was found dead on the roof of an adjacent building. Public outrage led to the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry which is ongoing.

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 4 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.

Self-defenestration is also a method of suicide. In the United States, self-defenestration is among the least common methods of committing suicide (typically less than 2% of all reported suicides in the United States for 2005).[12]

In Hong Kong, jumping is the most common method (from any location) of committing suicide, accounting for 52.1% of all reported suicide cases in 2006, and similar rates for the years prior to that.[13] 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).[14] Recent notables choosing this method of departure 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.

There is an urban legend in the U.S. that many Wall Street investors autodefenestrated during the 1929 stock market crash.[15]

In film

In literature

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."[16][17]

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.

In Jennifer Paynter's [18]

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.[19][20]

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger escape from Lord Voldemort by jumping out of a window in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

In television

The murderer Joe Macer in the British soap opera EastEnders dies after he is accidentally pushed through a window by Jim Branning, protecting his wife, Dot Branning.

In an episode of the TV 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.

On 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 (TV series), 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.


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001). "defenestration". Online Etymological Dictionary. 
  3. ^ Arthur C. Clarke; Tales from the White Hart, Ballantine Books, 1957
  4. ^ Caracas Metromayor’s ‘Political Defenestration’
  5. ^ AkbarnamaAbu Fazl,
  6. ^ , 20 July 2007Tamilweek, Dr. W.D.L. Fernando: Men of his calibre are rareM.S.L. Salgado,
  7. ^ Matthew McKinnon (August 12, 2005). "Rebel Yells: A protest music mixtape". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Cauchon, Dennis and Martha Moore (September 2, 2002). "Desperation forced a horrific decision". USATODAY. Retrieved 2006-09-09. 
  10. ^ Claims of 'incitement to suicide' after journalist falls to his death
  11. ^ Palestinian gunmen target Haniyeh's home in Gaza, Associated Press, 11/06/2007 [2]
  12. ^ "WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports". Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  13. ^ "Method Used in Completed Suicide". HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-10. 
  14. ^ "遭家人責罵:掛住上網媾女唔讀書 成績跌出三甲 中四生跳樓亡".  
  15. ^ After the 1929 stock market crash, did investors really jump out of windows?
  16. ^ R. P. Lister; Defenestration; The New Yorker, 16 September 1956.
  17. ^ J. M. Cohen (Ed.); Yet more comic and curious verse; Penguin Books (1959)
  18. ^ Paynter, Jennifer (2012). Mary Bennet : pride, prejudice and the forgotten sister. Camberwell, Victoria: Viking.  
  19. ^
  20. ^ Eric S. Raymond The New Hacker's Dictionary Publisher: MIT Press 1996 ISBN 978-0-262-68092-9

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