NCT » Biography » Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) »


19 Feb. 1473
Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Toruń/Thorn, the eldest son of a merchant of the same name, and his wife Barbara Watzenrode.
Upon his father's death, young Nicolaus's maternal uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, the future Bishop of Warmia/Ermland (appointed in 1489), took the boy under his protection and saw to his education and career.
After completing his education in St John's parish school, Copernicus began his studies in Krakow at the age of 18.
As a student of the Krakow Academy, Copernicus was introduced to astronomy, medicine, arithmetic and geometry.
At the age of 23, young Nicolaus enrolled in the Law Department of the University of Bologna. A thorough knowledge of canon law was to secure him a future ecclesiastical career carefully planned by his uncle, Bishop Lucas Watzenrode. Copernicus devoted much of his time at Bologna University to pursuing his interest in astronomy. Under the supervision of Professor Domenico Mario Novarra he conducted observations of the sky.
Copernicus became a member of the Warmian chapter and, by proxy, formally succeeded to a Frombork/Frauenburg canonry. This gave him a steady income allowing him to continue his studies and pursue his interests in scientific research.
Copernicus spent the jubilee year in Rome. At the time he was undertaking his apprenticeship at the Roman Curia and delivered a series of public lectures devoted to mathematics.
Copernicus returned to Frombork from Italy in order to request leave of absence to continue his studies abroad. After having secured permission from the Warmian chapter, he went to Padua to study medicine for two years.
Copernicus moved from Padua to Ferrara where he earned a doctorate in canon law but soon returned to Royal Prussia.
Copernicus resided at the ducal court of the Bishop of Warmia in Lidzbark Warmiński/ Heilsberg) and worked as a physician there. He also accompanied his uncle to sessions of the Royal Prussian Diet in Malbork/Marienburg, Elbląg/Elbing and Toruń. It was in the Bishop's castle that he wrote his Commentariolus, an initial outline of his heliocentric theory, and a Latin translation of Theophylact Simocatta's Letters.
Copernicus left the Castle in Lidzbark and settled on the cathedral hill in Frombork. Despite the chapter's animosity to Bishop Watzenrode, he was elected its chancellor (8 November 1510).
Copernicus drew a map of Warmia and the western borderlands of Royal Prussia meant for an assembly of the Royal Council in Poznań. He also held such high-ranking offices as that of chancellor and 'visitor' to the chapter's estates. In 1511 he was entrusted with the office of magister pistoriae or 'provisions fund' administrator.
Cardinals attending the Fifth Lateran Council requested Copernicus' assistance in the proposed reform of the Julian calendar. The astronomer devoted several years to research and observations related to the task and, although his proposals were sent to Rome, they have been lost.
Copernicus held the office of Administrator of the Warmian chapter estate. He was then residing in Olsztyn/Allenstein from where he supervised the vast estates of the chapter in the Olsztyn (Kammeramt Allenstein) and Pieniężno fiscal districts (Kammeramt Mehlsack), repopulated deserted areas with new settlers and wielded judicial control over the population.
Joining a dispute over a monetary reform, Copernicus drafted the first version of his treatise on money and presented it to the Prussian Diet. He also drew a map of the western part of the Vistula Lagoon/Zalew Wiślany. He relinquished his office as administrator of the chapter's estates and returned to Frombork to assume the responsibilities of chancellor.
A war between the Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic Order, whose troops burnt Frombork on 23 January, forced the canons residing there to flee to Olsztyn. Copernicus took part in a delegation sent to the Order's Grand Master to demand that Braniewo (Braunsberg), seized by the Order, should be returned to the Polish Crown. He was then reappointed Administrator of the chapter's estates and organized the defence of Olsztyn against anticipated Teutonic attack.
There was a futile Teutonic attempt to seize Olsztyn. Copernicus was appointed 'Commissioner of Warmia' with a mission to recapture estates seized by the Teutonic troops during the war. Upon his return to Frombork he assumed the responsibilities of 'visitor'.
Copernicus presented his treatise on money to the Prussian Diet in Grudziądz/ Graudenz.
Copernicus held the office of Administrator General of the Bishopric of Warmia and also acted as an envoy and chancellor of the chapter.
Copernicus wrote a letter to Bernard Wapowski in which he criticizes the views of the Nuremburg astronomer Johannes Werner included in On the Motion of the Eighth Sphere. He was later to cooperate with Wapowski in the drawing of a map of the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania.
Copernicus drafted the final version of his treatise on money.
He assumed the responsibilities, in turn, of chancellor, guardian of the table and 'visitor' of the Warmian chapter. In 1537 he was presented to the Polish King as one of four candidates for the Bishopric of Warmia.
Bishop Joannes Dantiscus accused Copernicus of illegal cohabitation with his housekeeper Anna Schilling and forced him to send her away.
Georg Joachim Rheticus, a Wittenberg mathematician fascinated by Copernicus' theories, arrived in Frombork and persuaded him to have his manuscript of De revolutionibus published.
Copernicus sent his manuscript of De revolutionibus to be printed.
Due to Rheticus's direct involvement in a printing house in Nuremburg, Nicolaus Copernicus' book De lateribus et angelis triangulorum (On the Sides and Angles of Triangles) was published, and which would be later incorporated in De revolutionibus. In December Copernicus suffered a stroke and the left side of his body was paralyzed.
Without his consent, Copernicus' work was published in Nuremburg under a changed title (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium) and a preface written by Andreas Osiander which belittled the significance of his theory.
On 24 May Copernicus died in Frombork and he was buried in the local cathedral.
Michał Targowski
Nicolaus Copernicus University