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Brahe, Tycho

1. Dates
Born: Skane, Denmark (now Sweden), 14 Dec 1546
Died: Prague, 24 Oct 1601
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 55
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat
Natural father: Otte Brahe, a member of the powerful Brahe family. He was later governor of Helsingborg castle, and, from 1563, a member of the Rigsraad, an approximately 20 member oligarchy that ruled Denmark.
Natural mother: Beate Billie, a member of the Billie family, which also had a significant number of seats on the Rigsraad.
Foster father: Jorgen Brahe (d. 1565), brother of Otte. Commander first of Traneker, then Naesbyhoved, and finally Vordingsborg castle. By 1558 he had one of the greatest assemblages of fiefs in Denmark. However, this was seriously compromised in the power struggle of 1558 in which Peter Oxe was sent into exile. At this time Jorgen relinquished the fiefs given to him by the King and transfered to Nyboking, a fief given to him by Queen Sophie. He was the vice-admiral of the Danish fleet when he died in 1565.
Foster mother: Inger Oxe, member of the Oxe family, which had one member on the Rigsraad. She was the sister of Peter, the strongman who essentially ruled Denmark from about 1566.
3. Nationality
Birth: Skane, Denmark [now Sweden]
Career: Hven, Denmark; Czechoslovakia
Death: Prague, Bohemia [now Czechoslovakia]
4. Education
Schooling: Copenhagen, Leipzig, Wittenberg, Rostock, Basel; no degree
c.1554-9, probably at the cathedral school around Vordingborg.
1559-62, University of Copenhagen. He may have matriculated in 1559, though noblemen's sons generally had no reason for registering.
1562-5, University of Leipzig. He registered in 1562. He studied humanities, and astronomy on the side under Scultetus.
1566, University of Wittenberg. Did not matriculate, began astronomical studies under Caspar Peucer, but fled after a few months because of plague.
1566, University of Rostock. He matriculated, but returned home after his dueling injury in 1567. He returned in 1568, but left again five months later after having been fined for the dueling incident.
1568, matriculated in University of Basel, but there only a few months. However, Basel left a profound impression, and Tycho later intended to settle there when he emigrated.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy, Instrumentation, Iatrochemistry
Subordinate: Cartography, Astrology, Meteorology
The astrology was both judicial and medical; eventually Tycho became disillusioned with it.
Thoren talks a great deal about alchemy, but it always sounds like Paracelsian iatrochemistry to me. Tycho was greatly influenced by Paracelsus.
Over long years Tycho kept records of the weather, convinced that he would find correlations with other things, such as positions of the planets.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Patronage
His education and travelling expenses, 1568-1570, were certainly paid by his father.
Otte Brahe died in 1571; the will was finally straightened out in 1574. Tycho shared the patrimonial estate of Kundstrup with his brother Steen. The estate was comprised of 200 farms, 25 cottages, and 5 1/2 mills. It was a rather small inheritance given Tycho's family, but enough to support him in comfort.
In the early 1570s he lived and worked at Herreved abbey, which was run by his maternal uncle Steen Billie.
In 1576, King Frederick II granted him the island of Hveen rent-free for the rest of his life and the expenses to establish and maintain a place where he could undertake his astronomical work. The maintainance grant was 500 daler per year. He left Uraniborg in 1597.
In 1577, he was granted the revenues and firewood from the manor of Kullagaard.
In 1578, he was given the use of 11 farms near Helsingborg.
1579-97, he held a canonry in Roskilde cathedral.
In 1580 he was granted the fiefdom of Nordfjord in Norway.
[Tycho estimated the combined revenue from the fiefs, farms, and canonry above to be approximately 2400 daler. A modern estimate makes this 1% of the entire crown revenue.]
In 1599, the emperor Rudolf II appointed Tycho imperial mathematician.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat
Certainly one of Tycho's most poweful patrons was Peter Oxe, who rapidly reassimilated his power after he was allowed to return to Denmark in 1566. Oxe was made governor of Copenhagen in 1567 and Lord High Steward--head of the government in all but name. Both Otte and Jorgen Brahe were linked to Oxe's power. Jorgen fell out of favor after Oxe's exile in 1558 because of his association with him. And Otte probably received Helsingborg castle because of Oxe's influence. It was through Oxe that the first vacant canonry at Roskilde cathedral was reserved for Tycho as early as 1568 (see 6).
Paul Hainzel subsidized Tycho's construction of a very large instrument on his estate outside of Augsburg in 1569. About the same time, Tycho gave Hainzel a portable sextant that he had designed and used.
King Frederick II (d. 1588), before deciding on Hveen (see 6), offered Tycho a variety of choice fiefs in an effort to get him to stay in Denmark. (See Thoren, pp. 102-4 for the extraordinary measures to keep Tycho in Denmark.) In return for his patronage, Tycho composed nativities for the Frederick's sons in 1577, 1579, and 1583; composed a report on the astrological inplications of the comet of 1577 (and maybe also those of 1580 and 1582); and provided Frederick with some kind of annual prognostications. Tycho gradually lost favor at court after Frederick's death, when Christian IV became King.
In early 1577 Tycho wrote a letter to Peder Soerensen, who was complaining about the burdens of court life, commenting extensively on the lot of the client. This letter sounds revealing. (See Thoren, p. 116)
Tycho was elected Rector of the University of Copenhagen in 1577, proposed by the theologian Niels Hemmingen, who was in hot water at that time because of the accusation that he was a crypto-Calvinist. Tycho declined.
Tycho himself acted as a patron to a number of students and assistants. Notables at Hveen include Peder Jacobsen Flemlose, John Hammond, Christian Sorensen [Longomontanus], Elias Olsen Morsing, Gellius Sascerides, Paul Wittich, and Willem Janszoon Blaeu; and in Bohemia Longomontanus, David Fabricius, Johannes Mueller, Melchior Joestelius, and Johannes Kepler.
The Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II hired Tycho as imperial mathematician in 1599. Tycho had dedicated his Mechanica to Rudolf in 1598 in an effort to solicit such support. Tycho was first given his choice of some castles for his work (he chose Benatky), and the emperor later bought the house of the late vice-chancellor Curtius in Prague for Tycho's use at the estimated cost of 10,000 gulden.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Cartography, Pharmacology
Tycho was involved in the design and fabrication of instruments from 1569. He maintained a staff of instrument makers at Hveen, whom he closely supervised, and was a designer of the highest caliber in accuracy and innovation. His Mechanica (1598) contains descriptions of some of his greatest instruments. He claimed to have spent 5000 daler on a 1.5 meter brass-covered celestial sphere alone.
He had discussions with King Frederick II about mapping Denmark, and sent his assistant Olsen out with Anders Vesel on a tour of Denmark in 1589, and his assistant Flemlose made surveys in Norway in 1590 and 1592. He finally only produced a new chart of Hven (printed 1592), but this clearly a work of advanced cartography.
Tycho the Paracelsian iatrochemist constantly produced medicines, some of which made it into the official Danish pharmacoepia.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Correspondents: William IV, Landgrave of Hesse, Christoph Rothmann.
  1. Victor E. Thoren, The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe, (Cambridge, 1990).
  2. Victor E. Thoren, "Tycho Brahe as the Dean of a Renaissance Research Institute," in Margaret J. Osler, ed., Religion, Science, and Worldview (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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