Nicolaus Copernicus (German: Nikolaus Kopernikus; Italian: Nicolò Copernico; Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik; in his youth, Niclas Koppernigk; 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543)
was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe.
Copernicus’ epochal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the
Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published just before his death in
1543, is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the
defining epiphany that began the scientific revolution. His heliocentric
model, with the Sun at the center of the universe, demonstrated that the
observed motions of celestial objects can be explained without putting
Earth at rest in the center of the universe. His work stimulated further
scientific investigations, becoming a landmark in the history of science
that is often referred to as the Copernican Revolution.
Among the great polymaths of the Renaissance, Copernicus was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, quadrilingual polyglot, classical scholar, translator, artist,Catholic cleric, jurist, governor, military leader, diplomat and economist. Among his many responsibilities, astronomy figured as little more than an avocation-yet it was in that field that he made his mark upon the world.
The oldest biography of Nicolaus Copernicus was completed on 7 October 1588 by Bernardino Baldi.
Nicolaus Copernicus was born on 19 February 1473 in the city of Thorn (Toruń) in Royal Prussia, part 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 (she died after 1517), prioress of a convent in Chełmno (Culm, Kulm). 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.
“Towards the close of 1542, he was seized with apoplexy and paralysis.” He died on 24 May 1543, on the day that he was presented with an advance copy of his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.
Nicolaus’ mother, Barbara Watzenrode, was the daughter of Lucas Watzenrode the Elder and his wife Katherine (née Modlibóg). Not much is known about her life, but she is believed to have died when Nicolaus was a small boy. The Watzenrodes had come from the Świdnica (Schweidnitz) region of Silesia and had settled in Toruń after 1360, becoming prominent members
of the city’s patrician class. Through the Watzenrodes’ extensive family relationships by marriage, they were related to wealthy families of Toruń, Danzig and Elbląg (Elbing), and to the prominent Czapski, Działyński, Konopacki and Kościelecki noble families. The Modlibógs (literally, in
Polish, “Pray to God”) were a prominent Roman Catholic Polish family who had been well known in Poland’s history since 1271. Lucas and Katherine had three children: Lucas Watzenrode the Younger, who would become Copernicus’ patron; Barbara, the astronomer’s mother; and Christina, who in 1459 married the merchant and mayor of Toruń, Tiedeman von Allen.
Lucas Watzenrode the Elder was well regarded in Toruń as a devout man and honest merchant, and he was active politically. He was a decided opponent of the Teutonic Knights and an ally of Polish King Casimir IV Jagiellon. In 1453 he was the delegate from Toruń at the Grudziądz (Graudenz)
conference that planned to ally the cities of the Prussian Confederation with Casimir IV in their subsequent war against the Teutonic Knights. During the Thirteen Years’ War that ensued the following year, he actively supported the war effort with substantial monetary subsidies, with
political activity in Toruń and Danzig, and by personally fighting in battles at Łasin (Lessen) and Marienburg (Malbork).He died in 1462.
Lucas Watzenrode the Younger, the astronomer’s maternal uncle and patron, was educated at the University of Krakow (now Jagiellonian University) and at the universities of Cologne and Bologna. He was a bitter opponent of the Teutonic Order and its Grand Master, who once referred to Watzenrode as “the devil incarnate.” 1489 Watzenrode was elected Bishop of Warmia
(Ermeland, Ermland) against the preference of King Casimir IV, who had hoped to install his own son in that seat. As a result, Watzenrode quarreled with the king until Casimir IV’s death three years later. Watzenrode was then able to form close relations with three successive Polish monarchs: John I Albert, Alexander Jagiellon, and Sigismund I the Old. He was a friend and key advisor to each ruler, and his influence greatly strengthened the ties between Warmia and Poland proper.
Watzenrode came to be considered the most powerful man in Warmia, and his wealth, connections and influence allowed him to secure Copernicus’ education and career as a canon at Frombork (Frauenberg) Cathedral.
Copernicus’ uncle Watzenrode maintained contacts with the leading intellectual figures in Poland and was a friend of the influential Italian-born humanist and Kraków courtier, Filippo Buonaccorsi. Watzenrode seems first to have sent young Copernicus to the St. John’s School at Toruń where he himself had been a master. Later, according to Armitage (some scholars differ), the boy attended the Cathedral School at Włocławek, up the Vistula River from Toruń, which prepared pupils for entrance to the University of Krakow, Watzenrode’s alma mater in Poland’s capital.Copernicus’ four years at Kraków played an important role in the development of his critical faculties and initiated his analysis of the logical contradictions in the two most polular systems of astronomy-Aristotle’s theory of homocentric spheres, and Ptolemy’s mechanism of eccentrics and epicycles–the surmounting and discarding of which constituted the first step toward the creation of Copernicus’ own doctrine of the structure of the universe.During his three-year stay at Bologna, between fall 1496 and spring 1501, Copernicus seems to have devoted himself less keenly to studying canon law (he received his doctorate in law only after seven years, following a second return to Italy in 1503) than to studying the humanities–probably attending lectures by Filippo Beroaldo, Antonio Urceo, called Codro, Giovanni Garzoni and Alessandro.As the time approached for Copernicus to return home, in spring 1503 he journeyed to Ferrara where, on 31 May 1503, having passed the
obligatory examinations, he was granted the degree of doctor of canon law. No doubt it was soon after (at latest, in fall 1503) that he left Italy for good to return to Warmia.
by Damian Schaumkessel kl. Ia