There were tumults, uprisings, and on May 23, 1618, a party of angry citizens of Prague burst into the council hall, seized Slavata and Martinitz, the two most obnoxious of the Catholic leaders, and hurled them from the window.
Continuing The Thirty Years War,
our selection from The Story of Germany by Charles F. Horne published in 1914. The selection is presented in 3.5 installments, each one 5 minutes long but first we conclude Gardiner’s piece. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Thirty Years War.
Time: May 23, 1618
By Samuel R. Gardiner
Accordingly, on the morning of May 23d, the “beginning and cause,” as a contemporary calls it, “of all the coming evil,” the first day, though men as yet knew it not, of thirty years of war, Thurn sallied forth at the head of a band of noblemen and their followers, all of them with arms in their hands. Trooping into the room where the Regents were seated, they charged the obnoxious two with being the authors of the King’s reply. After a bitter altercation both Martinitz and Slavata were dragged to a window which overlooked the fosse below from a dizzy height of some seventy feet. Martinitz, struggling against his enemies, pleaded hard for a confessor. “Commend thy soul to God,” was the stern answer. “Shall we allow the Jesuit scoundrels to come here?” In an instant he was hurled out, crying, “Jesus, Mary!” “Let us see,” said someone mockingly, “whether his Mary will help him.” A moment later he added, “By God, his Mary has helped him.” Slavata followed, and then the secretary Fabricius. By a wonderful preservation, in which pious Catholics discerned the protecting hand of God, all three crawled away from the spot without serious hurt.
There are moments when the character of a nation or party stands revealed as by a lightning flash, and this was one of them. It is not in such a way as this that successful revolutions are begun.
The first steps to constitute a new government were easy. Thirty directors were appointed, and the Jesuits were expelled from Bohemia. The Diet met and ordered soldiers to be levied to form an army. But to support this army money would be needed, and the existing taxes were insufficient. A loan was accordingly thought of, and the nobles resolved to request the towns to make up the sum, they themselves contributing nothing. The project falling dead upon the resistance of the towns, new taxes were voted, but no steps were taken to collect them, and the army was left to depend in a great measure upon chance.
Would the princes of Germany come to the help of the directors? John George of Saxony told them that he deeply sympathized with them, but that rebellion was a serious matter. To one who asked him what he meant to do he replied, “Help to put out the fire.”
There was more help for them at Heidelberg than at Dresden. Frederick IV had died in 1610, and his son, the young Frederick V, looked up to Christian of Anhalt as the first statesman of his age. By his marriage with Elizabeth, the daughter of James I of England, he had contracted an alliance which gave him the appearance rather than the reality of strength. He offered every encouragement to the Bohemians, but for the time held back from giving them actual assistance.
By Charles F. Horne
Ferdinand had crushed Protestantism in every estate he owned. In 1615 he and Matthias began, or at least permitted, measures for its repression in Bohemia. There were tumults, uprisings, and on May 23, 1618, a party of angry citizens of Prague burst into the council hall, seized Slavata and Martinitz, the two most obnoxious of the Catholic leaders, and hurled them from the window. It was an ancient form of Bohemian punishment, which had been used by Ziska and by others. The window this time was over eighty feet from the ground, yet the fall did not prove fatal. The men landed on a soft rubbish heap below, and one was unhurt; the other, though much injured, survived. Their secretary was hurled after them, and is said to have apologized to his masters, even as he landed, for his unavoidable discourtesy in alighting upon them.
This semicomic tragedy opened the Thirty Years’ War. At first the struggle was confined to Bohemia and Austria. The other states, secure in the fact that four-fifths of the populace of the empire was Protestant, looked on with seeming indifference. The Bohemians drove the scattered imperial troops from their country.
Meanwhile Matthias died, and Ferdinand was elected to the imperial throne as Ferdinand II (1619-1637). The Bohemians besieged him in Vienna. The Protestant Austrian nobles turned against him, and a deputation forced its way into the presence of the helpless Emperor, and insisted on his signing for them a grant of political and religious liberty. Ferdinand resolutely refused; the deputation grew threatening. One fierce noble seized the Emperor roughly by the coat front, crying, with an offensive nickname for Ferdinand, “Sign it, Nandel!” A trumpet from the castle yard interrupted them. It signalled the arrival of a body of imperial troops, who had slipped through the lines of the besiegers, and come to the Emperor’s rescue.
The Austrian nobles withdrew. Spanish and Cossack troops were called by Ferdinand into the country to crush all opposition. The Bohemians, wasted by famine and plague, retreated into their own land, and the war continued there. The people offered the Bohemian throne to Frederick, the elector of the Rhenish Palatinate, and a son-in-law of the English King, James I.
Frederick accepted, went to Bohemia in state, and tried to draw the other Protestant princes to his help. But he was a Calvinist, so the Lutherans refused to join him. His new subjects were mainly Lutherans also, and his impolitic effort to enforce his religious views upon Prague soon roused the citizens to a state of revolt against him.
The Catholic princes of the empire had long been united in a “League,” with Bavaria at its head. Bavaria was, next to Austria, the most powerful state of the empire, and it had become the stronghold of the Roman faith in Germany. Now, the army of this League, under its chief, Maximilian of Bavaria, offered its services to the Emperor against the disunited and wavering Bohemians. A portion of the Bohemian army was defeated at the battle of White Mountain, just outside of Prague. Frederick, the newly elected Bohemian King, saw his troops come fleeing back to the town, and their panic seems to have seized him also. Abandoning the strong walled city, he swept such of his possessions together as he could and fled in haste from Bohemia. “The Winter King” his enemies called him in derision, because his kingship had lasted but one short winter.
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