August 24 – Happy Birthday, Maybe, to Sophie Brahe

Posted on August 24, 2018

Tycho Brahe is one of the most famous Danish scientists ever. He lived in the 1500s, and he was well known even in his own time, and kids learning about astronomy even these days often have to memorize his name - or, actually, the Latinized version of his name. (His Danish first name is Tyge.)

Anyway, today's famous birthday is Tycho's sister!

Sophie or Sophia Brahe may or may not have been born on this date in 1559. Apparently there are some records that giver her birthday as September 22, 1556. This is a pretty extreme date confusion, since EVERYTHING about the two dates is different. September is one month later than August, the 24th is two days later than the 22nd, but worst of all, even the years are different! Three years different!

And since all we know about Ms. Brahe's death date is the year, 1643, she could have lived anywhere from 83 to 87 years!

But that's how it goes with old-time histories. Not all historical records last into modern times, and better records were kept for richer people than for poorer people - and possibly better records were kept for men than for women?

Sophie is known as a horticulturalist who dabbled in astronomy, chemistry, and medicine! She is also known for helping her then-famous and still-famous brother with his astronomical observations.

Tycho and Sophie Brahe were born into a noble family. Apparently they were united by two things: (1) their interest in science, and (2) the opposition of their family, who didn't think it was cool for noble folks to mess around with science!

Tycho wrote that he taught his sister horticulture and chemistry - remember that he would have had a lot more educational opportunities than she had, AND he was older than her - but he told her not to study astronomy. She didn't know Latin, so it was hard for her to study astronomy on her own; but she used her own money to have astronomy books written in Latin translated, and she knew German and was able to read astronomy books written in that language, too. When he discovered her wealth of knowledge in his own main field, apparently Tycho was very proud that she had learned so much all by herself.

But even though Tycho bragged in writing about his sister's keen mind and her gumption in learning, he still didn't carefully explain exactly how much and in what way she helped him. We do know that she helped at least to some extent with the observations that led to Tycho's discovery of a supernova and with the observations of a lunar eclipse.

Sophie Brahe often joined her brother on the island
of Hven, where he had an observatory.

The Thott estate is now calledTrolleholm Castle.
Sophie Brahe married a nobleman and had a son. Her husband died about 12 years into their marriage, and Sophie Brahe Thott ran their estate in such a way that it was profitable and noteworthy for its amazing gardens.

Sophie married again - this time to a scientist nobleman; they apparently lived in poverty, at least partly because the Brahe family, who disapproved of all Sophie's science, denied them her share of the family fortune. Apparently a newly married Sophie no longer lived on her first husband's estate - I imagine her son lived there and ran the place? Also, apparently Sophie's second husband, although noble, was poor.

After about eleven years of marriage, Sophie Brahe Thott Lange's second husband died. 

(Early deaths were not surprising - what WAS surprising was a long life like Sophia's. And a woman to whom Sophie taught medicine, at some point, lived to be 123 or 124 years! That's surprising no matter where or when!!)

The last years of Sophie Brahe Thott Lange's life she spent writing genealogies and histories of Danish noble families. She wrote a 900 page manuscript on the topic - a tome that is still considered a major source of the early history of the Danish aristocracy.

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