Sophia Brahe

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Sophia Brahe
Sophie Brahe portrait.jpg
Portrait from 1602
Born (1559-08-24)August 24, 1559 (or (1556-09-22)September 22, 1556)
Knutstorp, Sweden
Died 1643 (aged 83–84)
The Hague, Netherlands
Known for Assisting her brother Tycho Brahe with his astronomical observations, creating exceptional gardens at Trolleholm Castle, genealogist of Danish noble families
  • Otto Thott
  • Erik Lange
Children Tage Thott
Scientific career
Influences Tycho Brahe

Sophia or Sophie Brahe or after marriage Sophie Thott Lange (22 September 1556 or 24 August 1559[1] – 1643), was a Danish horticulturalist with knowledge of astronomy, chemistry, and medicine. She assisted her brother Tycho Brahe with his astronomical observations.


She was born in Knudstrup, as the youngest of ten children, to Otte Brahe rigsråd, or advisor to the King of Denmark; and Beate Bille Brahe, leader of the royal household for Queen Sophie. Sophia's oldest brother was astronomer Tycho Brahe. Though he was both more than a decade her senior and raised in a separate household, the pair became quite close by the time Sophia was a teenager.[2] The brother and sister were united by their work in science, and by their family's opposition to science as an appropriate activity for members of the aristocracy.[2] Tycho wrote that he had trained Sophia in horticulture and chemistry, but he initially told her not to study astronomy. He expressed with pride that she learned astronomy on her own, studying books in German, and having Latin books translated with her own money so that she could also study them (Tjørnum). She frequently visited his observatory Uranienborg, on the then-Danish island of Hveen.[2][3] There, she assisted him with astronomical observations associated with his publication De nova stella (On the New Star), in particular the 11 November 1572 observations which lead to the discovery of a supernova and the 8 December 1573 lunar eclipse.[2][4] The precise details of her assistance here appear to be unrecorded. Tycho seems to have respected Sophia's intellectual pursuits—referring with admiration to Sophia's animus invictus or her "determined mind" (Det Kongelige Bibliotek)—suggesting her contributions to (what is today recognized as) his work were non-trivial.

She married Otto Thott in 1576, an older man than her: he was 33. She had one child with him before he died on 23 March 1588.[5][6] Their son was Tage Thott (da), born in 1580. Upon her husband's death, Sophie Thott managed his property in Eriksholm (today Trolleholm Castle[7]), running the estate to keep it profitable until her son came of age. During this time, she also became a horticulturalist, in addition to her studies in chemistry and medicine. The gardens she created in Ericksholm were said to be exceptional.[2] Sophie was particularly interested in studying chemistry and medicine according to Paracelsus,[6] in which small doses of poison might serve as strong medicines, and used her skills to treat the local poor.[2] She was devoted to the pseudo-science of astrology and helped her brother with producing horoscopes until 1597 (Det Kongelige Biblioteck).

On 21 July 1587, King Frederick II of Denmark signed a document transferring to Sophia Brahe title of Årup farm in what is now Sweden (Svensson, et al.).

Sophia continued to be a frequent visitor at Uranienborg where she met Erik Lange, a nobleman who studied alchemy and a friend of Tycho's.[2] In 1590, Sophie took 13 visits to Uranienborg and became engaged to Lange. Lange used up most of his fortune with alchemy experiments, so their marriage was delayed some years while he avoided his debtors and traveled to Germany to try to find patrons for his work. Tycho Brahe wrote the Latin epic poem "Urania Titani" during the couple's separation, expressed as a letter from his sister Sophia to her fiance in 1594.[6] Tycho casts Sophia as Urania, muse of astronomy,[8] a further suggestion of his respect for her scientific endeavours.

In 1599, she visited Lange in Hamburg, but they did not marry until 1602 in Eckernförde. They lived in this town for a while in extreme poverty. Sophie wrote a long letter to her sister Margrethe Brahe, describing having to wear stockings with holes in them for her wedding. Lange's wedding clothes had to be returned to the pawn shop after the wedding, because the couple could not afford to keep them. She expressed anger with her family for not accepting her science studies, and for depriving her of money owed to her. By 1608, Erik Lange was living in Prague, and he died there in 1613 (Det Kongelige Bibliotek).

Sophie Brahe personally financed the restoration of the local church, Ivetofta kyrka. She planned to be buried there, and the lid for her unused sarcophagus remains in the church's armory (Svensson, et al.). But, by 1616 she had moved permanently to Zealand and settled in Helsingør. She spent her last years writing up the genealogy of Danish noble families, publishing the first major version in 1626 (there were later additions). Her work is still considered a major source for early history of Danish nobility(Det Kongelige Bibliotek). She died in Helsingør in the year 1643,[9] and was buried in the Torrlösa old church (in the village of Torrlösa, east of the town of Landskrona in what was then Denmark but now is southern Sweden. That church housed a burial chapel for the Thott family that remained for some time even after the church itself was pulled down in the mid-19th century (the new Torrlösa church was built nearby). Currently, a stone setting marks the outlines of the Thott chapel, while the tombstone for Sophie Brahe is still standing on the site.


Live Larsdatter, reported to have been taught by Sophie Brahe and lived to about 123 years.

Sophie, along with her brother Tycho, have come to represent the flowering of letters and science during the Danish Renaissance. She worked closely with her brother in his scientific endeavors and is thought to have acted as his muse. Indeed the two were so close that poet Johan L. Heiberg admonished that "Denmark must never forget the noble woman who, in spirit much more than flesh and blood, was Tycho Brahe's sister; the shining star in our Danish heaven is indeed a double one."[10] In 1626 Sophie had completed a 900-page manuscript on the genealogies of 60 Danish noble families, which is held by Lund University.[9]

In 1691 Pieter van der Hulst painted a portrait of an old woman named Live Larsdatter; he wrote a note claiming she was born in 1575, and was 116 years old. Sparse sources claimed that Larsdatter worked for Tycho in Denmark, and later for Sophie, who taught her medicine. Larsdatter was variously said to have lived to 123 or 124 years and to have become known for her "miracle plaster".[11]


  1. ^ probably in 1559 following Christianson 2000, p. 258, some others scholars give 1556, both dates match his horoscope (Det Kongelige Bibliotek).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Dreyer, J.L.E. (1890). Tycho Brahe, a picture of scientific life and work in the sixteenth century. Edinburgh: A. & C. Black. 
  3. ^ Christianson 2000, p. 57: 8 December 1573 ... helped Tycho to observe a lunar eclipse
  4. ^ "Sophia Brahe | National Schools' Observatory". Retrieved 2018-04-09. 
  5. ^ Christianson 2000, p. 161
  6. ^ a b c Christianson 2000, p. 259
  7. ^ Christianson 2000, p. 258.
  8. ^ Ziggelaar, August (September 1996). "Reviewed Work: Tycho Brahes "Urania Titani": Et digt om Sophie Brahe by Peter Zeeberg". Isis. 87 (3): 542–543. 
  9. ^ a b Christianson 2000, p. 264
  10. ^ Wilson, Katharina (1991). An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. Grand Publishing, Inc. pp. 164–165. ISBN 0824085477. 
  11. ^ Christianson 2000, pp. 311–312


Further reading[edit]

  • "Sophie Brahe: Brev til Margrethe Brahe". Det Kongelige Bibliotek. Retrieved 25 September 2007. 
  • Ogilvie, Marilyn (1986). "Brahe, Sophia". Women in Science: Antiquity through Nineteenth Century: A Biographical Dictionary with Annotated Bibliography. MIT Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-262-65038-X. 
  • Zeeberg, Peter (1994). Tycho Brahes "Urania Titani" : et digt om Sophie Brahe. København: Museum Tusculanums forlag. ISBN 8772892781. 
  • Svensson, Rebecka; Bengtsson, Caroline; Jönsson, Lisa. "Årup". Retrieved 19 December 2002. [permanent dead link]
  • Tjørnum, Gilbert (27 November 2003). "Hvem er Sophie?" (PDF). Nyhedsbrevet Sophie (in Danish). Astrologisk Museum, Denmark (3). Retrieved 18 September 2007. 

External links[edit]