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Copernicus, Nicolas

1. Dates
Born: Torun, Poland, 19 Feb 1473
Died: Frauenburg, Poland, 24 May 1543
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 70
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant, Cleric
Father: Niklas Koppernigk, a merchant and baker from Cracow, who migrated to Torun not later than 1458. He prospered there and was appointed magistrate for life. He married Barbara Watzenrode, daugther of a wealthy Torun merchant. He died in 1483.
Uncle: Lucas Watzenrode (1447-1512) assumed responsibility for Copernicus after the death of his father. He was a churchman, and became Bishop of Varmia (Ermland), one of Prussia's four diocese, in 1489.
The circumstances were wealthy.
3. Nationality
Birth: Torun, Poland
Career: Frauenburg, Poland
Death: Frauenburg, Poland
4. Education
Schooling: Cracow; M.A., Bologna; Padua; L.D.
He first attended school at Turon and then Wloclawek.
1491-4, University of Cracow.
1496-1500, University of Bologna. He enrolled and became a member of the German nation in 1496. Though he was officially studying canon law, he was taught and maybe also lodged by Domenico Maria de Novarra (1454-1504). He did take an M.A.
1501-3, University of Padua, studying medicine.
1503, took a doctorate in canon law at the University of Ferrara.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Ecclestiastical Position
Secondary: Schoolmaster, Patronage
He spent the year 1500 in Rome teaching mathematics privately.
In 1497 he received a canonry at the cathedral in Frauenburg. This supplied ample support for the rest of his life.
1506-12, he acted as medical advisor and secretary to his uncle the Bishop of Ermland, and lived at the Bishop's castle in Heilsberg. In the years that followed, he was occasionally called back to Heilsberg to tend to ailing bishops.
1516-19, appointed to administer some outlying estates belonging to the chapter, and lived at Allenstein castle. This assignment was interupted by war. After it was safe to return, Copernicus assisted in resettling the estates for about six months (1520-1521).
1523, he was appointed Administrator-general in the interregnum of about six months between Bishops.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
His most important patron by far was his uncle Lucas Watzenrode, who arranged for the canonry at Frauenburg, and appointed Copernicus to a trusted position as his medical advisor for 6 years. Copernicus accompanied or respresented his uncle on a number of diplomatic missions.
Tiedemann Giese, Bishop of Kulm, was an old friend of Copernicus's from the chapter, who entertained Copernicus and Rheticus when he visted. Copernicus entrusted his manuscript of De revolutionibus to Giese, who sent it on to Rheticus. There is some speculation that Copernicus supported Giese in an unsucessful bid for the Bishoporic of Ermland and suffered some backlash as a result.
The Duke of Prussia at one point summoned Copernicus to Koenigsberg to attend to a councilor. Copernicus also submitted a work on the debasement of Prussian coinage to the Prussian Landestag in 1528.
Copernicus was invited by the Lateran council to assist in calendar reform in 1514.
The papal sectretary Johann Widmansted read a Copernican lecture to Clement VII in 1533. In 1536, Cardinal Schoenberg, nuncio in Poland and Prussia, wrote from Rome urging Copernicus to publish.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Practiced Medicine
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Angus Armitage, Copernicus: The Founder of Modern Astronomy (New York: Thomas Yoreloff, 1957). [Swn QB36.C8 A7 1957] Leopold Prowe, Nicolas Coppernicus.
  2. Full detail not extracted from Prowe when the work seemed unlikely to yield much biographical information.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
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