Nicolaus Copernicus bigraphy, stories - astronomer

Nicolaus Copernicus : biography

19 February 1473 - 24 May 1543

Nicolaus Copernicus ( 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a heliocentric model of the universe which placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center.

The publication of Copernicus' book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), just before his death in 1543, is considered a major event in the history of science. It began the Copernican Revolution and contributed importantly to the scientific revolution.

Copernicus was born and died in Royal Prussia, a region of the Kingdom of Poland since 1466. Copernicus had a doctorate in canon law and, though without degrees, was a physician, polyglot, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist who in 1517 set down a quantity theory of money, a principal concept in economics to the present day, and formulated a version of Gresham's law in the year 1519, before Gresham.


Nicolaus Copernicus was born on 19 February 1473 in the city of Toruń (Thorn), in the province of Royal Prussia, in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. His father was a merchant from Kraków and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy Toruń merchant. Nicolaus was the youngest of four children. His brother Andreas (Andrew) became an Augustinian canon at Frombork (Frauenburg). His sister Barbara, named after her mother, became a Benedictine nun and, in her final years, prioress of a convent in Chełmno (Kulm); she died after 1517. His sister Katharina married the businessman and Toruń city councilor Barthel Gertner and left five children, whom Copernicus looked after to the end of his life. Copernicus never married or had children.

Father's family

The father’s family can be traced to a village in Silesia near Nysa (Neiße). The village's name has been variously spelled Kopernik, Copernik, Copernic, Kopernic, Coprirnik, and today Koperniki. In the 14th century, members of the family began moving to various other Silesian cities, to the Polish capital, Kraków (1367), and to Toruń (1400). The father, Mikołaj the Elder, likely the son of Jan, came from the Kraków line.

Nicolaus was named after his father, who appears in records for the first time as a well-to-do merchant who dealt in copper, selling it mostly in Danzig (Gdańsk). He moved from Kraków to Toruń around 1458. Toruń, situated on the Vistula River, was at that time embroiled in the Thirteen Years' War (1454–66), in which the Kingdom of Poland and the Prussian Confederation, an alliance of Prussian cities, gentry and clergy, fought the Teutonic Order over control of the region. In this war, Hanseatic cities like Danzig and Toruń, Nicolaus Copernicus' hometown, chose to support the Polish King, Casimir IV Jagiellon, who promised to respect the cities' traditional vast independence, which the Teutonic Order had challenged. Nicolaus' father was actively engaged in the politics of the day and supported Poland and the cities against the Teutonic Order. In 1454 he mediated negotiations between Poland’s Cardinal Zbigniew Oleśnicki and the Prussian cities for repayment of war loans. In the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), the Teutonic Order formally relinquished all claims to its western provinces, which as Royal Prussia remained a region of Poland for the next 300 years.

Copernicus' father married Barbara Watzenrode, the astronomer's mother, between 1461 and 1464. He died about 1483.

Mother's family

Nicolaus’ mother, Barbara Watzenrode, was the daughter of a wealthy Toruń patrician and city councillor, Lucas Watzenrode the Elder (deceased 1462), and Katarzyna (widow of Jan Peckau), mentioned in other sources as Katarzyna "Rüdiger gente Modlibog" (deceased 1476). The Watzenrode family, like the Kopernik family, had come from Silesia from near Świdnica (Schweidnitz), and after 1360 had settled in Toruń. They soon became one of the wealthiest and most influential patrician families. Through the Watzenrodes' extensive family relationships by marriage, Copernicus was related to wealthy families of Toruń, Danzig and Elbląg (Elbing), and to prominent noble families of Prussia: the Czapskis, Działyńskis, Konopackis and Kościeleckis. The Modlibógs (the Polish name means "Pray God") were a prominent Polish family who had been well known in Poland's history since 1271. Lucas and Katherine had three children: Lucas Watzenrode the Younger (1447-1512), who would become Bishop of Warmia and Copernicus' patron; Barbara, the astronomer's mother (deceased after 1495); and Christina (deceased before 1502), who in 1459 married the Toruń merchant and mayor, Tiedeman von Allen.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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