Privileged Childhood

Copernicus lived a rather obscure life, the accounting of which has been told through bits and pieces of information gathered from scattered historical records. He was born Niclas Koppernigk in Torun, Poland, on February 19, 1473, into the privileged upper class. (Nicholas Copernicus is the Latinized form of his name.) His father, also Niclas Koppernigk, was a merchant who emigrated from Krakow, Poland, in about 1458. He became a successful businessman and magistrate in Torun. Nicholas's mother was Barbara Watzenrode, descended from generations of prosperous Torun merchants.

When Nicholas was 10 years old, his father died. His uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, a canon of Frauenburg Cathedral in Ermland, Prussia, took over the job of raising him and his three siblings. Nicholas first attended St. John's School in Torun and later the Cathedral School of Wloclawek, outside Torun.

In 1489 his uncle became the bishop of Ermland, which was the same as being its ruler. His uncle's high station was Nicholas's guarantee of a good education and bright future. In 1491, when Nicholas was 18, he traveled under the supervision of his uncle to the flourishing Polish city of Krakow to attend the University of Krakow. He looked forward to studying medicine, Latin, mathematics, astronomy, geography, philosophy, and, of course, church law, all subjects that would lead him toward a life of service to the church and a comfortable living for all of his days. Back then, as it is now, having a reliable income was no small thing.

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