This week, to celebrate Halloween, we will be posting a few scary stories from our authors. Today’s post comes to us from Katherine Marsh, who is the author of the forthcoming novel, JEPP WHO DEFIED THE STARS.
In 1576, King Frederick of Denmark gave a talented young astronomer and nobleman named Tycho Brahe the island of Hven in the Oresund Strait between Denmark and Sweden. Brahe would build a futuristic observatory called Uraniborg or the “Castle of the Stars” on the island—one with state-of-the-art astronomical equipment, a collection of moving statues or automata, and even running water. But while Uraniborg became a destination for scientists and scholars from across Europe, Hven remained an otherwise primitive place—populated by peasants who resented Brahe and had their own violent legends about the island.
One of these legends was the story of Lady Grimmel who, long ago, ruled the island from her four castles. Fearing any threat to her power, she invited her own two brothers to a feast and murdered them. But her lady-in-waiting, Maid Hvenild, was already pregnant with her brother’s son. When this child, Ranke, grew up, he avenged his father’s death by locking Lady Grimmel in her own dungeon, where she starved to death.
Brahe enjoyed listening to such dark tales during his own feasts. Surrounded by his erudite companions, in a bastion of modern science, they likely seemed a relic of a more brutal age. But four years after he left Hven, Brahe became gravely ill after attending just such a feast in Prague.
For a long time, the story was that he had to urinate but, out of politeness, held it for hours until his bladder ruptured. But in the 1990s, researchers analyzing Brahe’s hair discovered elevated mercury levels, suggesting that, like Lady Grimmel’s brothers, he may have been murdered. One theory is that his assistant, the German mathematician Johannes Kepler, poisoned Brahe in order to steal his observational data, which Tycho had been withholding.