I was musing the other day as to whether a majority vote for Brexit could be classified as some quaint form of autodefenestration. I had always assumed that defenestration, the act of throwing an opponent out of a window, was a peculiarly Bohemian phenomenon but it has a longer and more varied history.
Jezebel, who these days has somewhat of a bad press, was an early victim of defenestration. The wife of King Ahab she promoted what were known as false prophets and persecuted the followers of Yahweh, cooking up false evidence against an innocent landowner who was put to death. Soon, however, according to the second book of Kings, the tables were turned on her and on the orders of Jehan she was thrown out of a window by her servants. To add insult to injury the flesh of her body was consumed by stray dogs.
The Annals of Westhide Abbey suggest that King John got rid of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, by chucking him out of the windows of the castle in Rouen in France in 1203. If it is true, it may be the first historical act of defenestration.
In 1378 the craftsmen of Leuven rose up in revolt and occupied the town hall in what was a political coup. The patricians who had been overthrown fled the city and made their escape to Aarschot. An uneasy peace was brokered with the patricians agreeing to share power with the revolting guildsmen. But peace did not last long as the patricians, seething at the turn of events, had the leader of the guildsmen, Wouter van der Leyden, murdered in Brussels. Naturally this was seen as an act of provocation by the townsfolk who rose up in revolt again, seized a number of patricians who were handed to the mob and some fifteen ended up flying out of the windows of the town hall.
Perhaps the most unfortunate victim of defenestration was Adham Khan, foster brother of the Mughal emperor, Akbar I. Akbar was successful in conquering vast tracts of land and expanding his empire, magnanimously treating those who fell under his rule by demonstrating religious tolerance and clemency, traits which earned him the moniker Great. In 1560 Adham was sent out to conquer more land which the foster brother did successfully but slaughtered many of the inhabitants and kept much of the bounty for himself. He was relieved of his duties.
A couple of years later Adham became enraged when Akbar promoted his favourite Ataga Khan to the position of chief minister and had the unfortunate murdered. Akbar was woken up by the brouhaha following the murder and discovering the cause struck Adham with his fist and then ordered him to be defenestrated. He was thrown 12 metres from a window or the ramparts of Agra fort but survived the fall, sustaining two broken legs. Akbar wasn’t finished yet. He ordered the unfortunate Adham to be thrown out of the window again. This time he died. When Akbar told his mother, Maham Anga, of Adham’s demise, she responded “you have done well” but she herself was dead within forty days, from acute depression.
You can’t help thinking that a spot of defenestration would liven up the current political scene.