Escutcheons of Science
 Tycho Brahe 
 (c) 2006 Jochen Wilke

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)
Danish Astronomer

[ The above is a copyrighted picture reproduced here by permission:  © 2006 Jochen Wilke. ]

Sable,  a pale Argent.
Crest:   A peacock feather between two horns Sable a fess Argent,
each bearing four peacock feathers [fesswise].

Tycho Brahe's precise naked-eye observations of the motion of the planets paved the way for the accurate mathematical descriptions given by his famous assistant, Johannes Kepler  (in the form of three laws that would later be completely explained by Newtonian physics).  In 1578,  Tycho Brahe  was awarded the very prestigious  Order of the Elephant  for services rendered to the Danish Crown.  The  second  scientist to be so honored would be  Niels Bohr,  in 1947.
Early in November 1572, Tycho Brahe was one of many individuals who independently observed a spectacular new star  (actually, a Type Ia supernova explosion)  in the  Cassiopeia  constellation.  At first, the  nova  outshone Venus and it would remain visible to the naked eye for more than a year.  Tycho was able to show that the phenomenon lacked any measurable observational parallax, which proved that it was located well beyond the confines of the Solar system.  The detailed account Tycho gave in  De nova et nullius aevi memoria prius visa stella (1573) thus established that the "sphere of fixed stars" was definitely not as immutable as previously thought.  Tycho's Nova  was one of about 8 supernovae visible to the naked eye in recorded history.  Its remnant  (SN 1572,  or  3C 10)  is now mostly a radio source.
 1586: Portrait of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) 
 surrounded by the arms of his noble ancestors.

In this famous portrait, Tycho Brahe is surrounded by the arms of his noble ancestors,
with his own paternal arms at the top, left of center.  Clockwise from bottom right, the
names read:  Gyldenstern (Gyldenstierne), Kahbiller (Kabel), Markeman (Markmand),
Axellsønner, Rosenkrans (Rosenkrantz), Longer (Lunge), Ruder (Rud), Braher (Brahe),
Biller (Bille), Ulfstander (Ulfstand), Ronnor (Rønnow), Troller (Trolle), Longer (Lunge),
Rosenspar, Storawase, and Axellsønner.

Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe   (1546-1601)
 Rosenkrantz (Rosencrantz) 
 [Ancient Arms]    Gyldenstern,
 Gyldenstierne (Guildenstern)

The two names of   Rosenkrans  and  Gyldenstern  stand out because of the pair of Shakespearean characters  (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern)  in the  Tragedy of Hamlet, prince of Denmark,  which  William Shakespeare (1564-1616)  wrote around 1601   (the year Brahe died).

The relevant ancestors of Tycho Brahe  (ahnentafels #22 and #23) are  Erik Rosenkrantz (1427-1503)  and  Sophie Gyldenstierne (+1477),  parents of  Kirstine Rosenkrantz  (+1509),  the maternal grandmother of Tycho Brahe's mother, Beate Bille (1526-1605).

It seems most likely that the two famous Shakespearean characters were modeled after an inseparable pair of vocal students from the University of Wittenberg (founded 1502),  Knud Gyldenstierne  and  Frederick Rosenkrantz, who visited England and Scotland in 1592, as part of the Danish legation.  Both, like Tycho Brahe himself, were from the close-knit Danish nobility. Not surprisingly, the three men were relatives.  Frederick Rosenkrantz is presented as a third cousin of Tycho Brahe's.  Incidentally, Rosenkrantz returned to London in 1600  just as  Hamlet  was being written  (he had just visted Tycho Brahe in Prague, traveling with Johannes Kepler).  This piece of trivia keeps popping up on the Internet, with various speculations next to  elements  of the above explanation:

  • 1996:  Klaus Ole Kristiansen.
  • 1997:  Peter D. Usher  (press release).  1999 follow-up.
  • 2001:  David P. Stern  (quoting Ferguson about the 1592 historical pair).
  • 2003:  New Shakespeare Fellowship.  Bassanio (quoting Jim Swank).
  • Etc.
Weirdly, references to the page you're now reading appeared almost simultaneously (October 1, 2006) in  3  different  discussions of this issue.  Within 3 days, we had acknowledged all of those, here.  A funny  thermal equilibrium  about reciprocal credits was even quickly reached with the thread started by Baez  (without  private contacts).   Isn't THAT strange?  Brahe Family

The above portrait was engraved in copper in Amsterdam in 1586, and was used extensively by Tycho Brahe in his own publicity...  In 1590, Tycho sent 4 copies of it  (along with 2 copies of his 1588 book) to a prominent member of Merton College, namely:  Thomas Savile (d. 1593) brother of the warden of the College, Sir Henry Savile (1549-1622).

 John Dee 

Tycho Brahe was apparently craving for English epigrams  and he suggested that some  excellent  English poets might compose them to praise him and his work...  Tycho Brahe asked Savile to be remembered to the mathematician John Dee (1527-1609)  and also to Dee's pupil  Thomas Digges (1546-1595).

Back in 1938, the renowned Shakespeare researcher  Leslie Hotson  argued that Shakespeare obtained much of his knowledge of Science from Thomas Digges and might have learned of Tycho Brahe (and the above portrait) through Digges.

The Death of Tycho

A dubious legend has it that Tycho died from a burst bladder after a banquet where he refrained from leaving the table to relieve himself, which would have been a breach of etiquette.  Actually, Tycho fell ill at that banquet  (on October 13, 1601)  and found himself in a medical condition which made it painful and difficult for him to urinate.  He died  10  days later.

In the 1990s, a forensic analysis of hair from Tycho's beard was carried out and left no doubt that he died from mercury poisoning.  One dose was delivered at the time of the infamous banquet and Tycho ingested another large dose the day before he died  (the accompanying high level of calcium being consistent with ingestion in milk).  Wild speculations, most notably by Joshua and Ann-Lee Gilder, have blamed Kepler for the murder  (I, for one, find that very hard to believe).  More recently, evidence has surfaced that the murderer may have been a cousin of Tycho's who was visiting at the time,  Count Eric Brahe,  acting on behalf of King Christian IV of Denmark (1577-1648).  Professor Peter Andersen, a specialist of Danish renaissance who discovered a lost diary of Eric Brahe in 2008, estimates that the details recorded by Eric Brahe amount to an indirect confession...

At the time of his death, Tycho was exiled in Prague because the Danish king had turned against him for reasons that were unclear to historians until recently.  However, it seems that rumors were circulating that Tycho Brahe had a liaison with Queen Sophie, the mother of Christian IV.  Tycho may even have been the king's biological father...

Wikipedia:  Tycho Brahe
Prosthaphæresis        Tycho Brahe  Johannes Kepler  J.L.E. Dreyer
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