You may not have heard of Tycho Brahe (14th December 1546 – 24th October 1601) but he is one of the most important cosmologist’s that the world has ever seen and among other marvels discovered the supernova in 1572. He was a Danish nobleman who as the last of the “naked eye” astronomers, observed the skies without a telescope. As well as being an incredibly astute scientist this aspect of his life is perhaps overshadowed by one of the most incredible and eccentric personal lives that I know of.
1. He was kidnapped by his Uncle when he was two.
His parents had promised his uncle (Jorgen Brahe) a boy child as he and his wife were not able to have children but things changed when Tycho’s twin brother died before he was baptised. This apparently caused Tycho’s parents to renege on the deal. In 1548 Jorgen came to claim what was promised to him and as Tycho stated “without the knowledge of my parents took me away with him while I was in my earliest youth to become a scholar”.
2. He had a brass prosthetic nose.
On 29th December 1566 Tycho lost part of his nose in a duel with his cousin Manderup Parsberg. They did later reconcile but had been drunkenly arguing about a mathematical formula and a duel appeared the only way to resolve the argument. For the rest of his life he replaced his nose with a brass one and the incident sparked in him a new interest in medicine and alchemy.
3. He was close to Jepp, a clairvoyant dwarf.
As part of his search for the bizarre he employed Jepp, a dwarf he became very fond of, who he claimed could see the future and he even asked him to eat beneath his table during every meal. Jepp achieved some notoriety of his own and has even featured in an award winning young adult novel Jepp, Who Defied the Stars ( The link takes you to the book on Amazon )
It was long believed that Tycho was poisoned as witnesses claimed to have noticed mercury on his moustache after he died on 24th October 1601. However his body was exhumed in 2010 and an autopsy revealed he probably died because he was being too polite to visit the bathroom and subsequently his bladder burst which poisoned him.
5. His life may have inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet
I don’t remember reading about noses, dwarfs or elks in Hamlet but it is often claimed that shortly after his death in 1601 Hamlet was written in 1603 and Tycho Brahe was an inspiration. Academics however dispute this.
6. 5 % of the wealth of Denmark was spent on his astronomy
I understand that NASA is having trouble getting funding but things were different for Tycho who managed to convince the Danish government to spend around 5% of the entire wealth of Denmark on his astronomy.
7. He had a pet Elk who got drunk and died when he fell down some stairs
One of the most renowned tales about Tycho Brahe is of his pet elk. This tame moose used to trot alongside his carriage and live inside his castle like a pet dog. He was very well mannered and would attend social functions on Tycho’s behalf. Unfortunately he developed a taste for danish beer and after entertaining some guests at a party hosted by a nearby nobleman he fell down some stairs and died.
It looks like Moose still like a drink every now again and here’s a clip from the news in 2011.
8. He lived in Uranienborg – Fortress of the Heavens
We’re stepping into James Bond villain territory when we reveal this brass nosed eccentric multimillionaire lived on an island with a castle and an observatory and even had a torture chamber and a network of tunnels beneath his fortress.
9. He may have been having an affair with the Queen of Denmark
It was rumoured that Tycho was having an affair with the Queen of Denmark and some even claimed he was murdered because of it. The story also includes an international hit man, hired after a Danish prince becomes king and suspects Brahe of sleeping with his mother (and maybe being his father!).
10. He had a famous moustache
If you look at the pictures in this article the first thing you might notice after Tycho’s brass nose is his huge moustache which he wore through most of his adult life.