The Gdańsk astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611–87) married twice. His first wife, Katharine née Rebeschke (1613–62), belonged to a family of brewers, just like her husband. His junior by two years, she proved a skilful manager of their brewery, leading the astronomer to cede all responsibility for the family company to her. Their marriage lasted until 1662, when Katharine died. After mourning for a year, the astronomer married a suitable successor to Katherine—Elisabetha née Koopman (1647–93).
Little is known of Elisabetha’s biography. She was the daughter of a merchant from the Netherlands, Nicholas Koopman, and Joanna née Mennings. Like other well-bred women in Gdańsk, she received a comprehensive education—she was fluent in foreign languages, including Latin, and would also have been well-read and familiar with the arts, literature, and science. Before her sixteenth birthday, she conquered the heart of the mature astronomer, and proved an ideal companion to him after their wedding in 1663 at the church of Saint Catherine in Gdańsk—not only in his private life, but also in astronomical observations. Two surviving documents testify to their cooperation—copperplates found in Machinae coelestis pars prior, depicting Hevelius looking at the sky with his wife. Thus, like Maria Kunicka, Johannes Hevelius’ only female correspondent, Elisabetha warranted the title of a Polish astronomer, even if she never published an independent work (which Kunicka did). It should be stressed, though, that the editing and publication of two final, posthumously released works by her husband—Prodromus Astronomiae and Firmamentum Sobiescianum—counts as a scientific achievement in its own right. The two concurrently published works included a dedication to Jan III Sobieski written by none other than Hevelius’ widow.
Childless after his first marriage, Hevelius gained progeny thanks to Elisabetha. Their three daughters—Katarzyna Elżbieta (1666–1745), Julianna Renata (1668–1707), and Flora Konstancja (1672–1734) survived to adulthood; the only son, Johannes Adeodatus (i.e. God’s gift, 1664–5) died in infancy.
Elisabetha died a few years after her husband, aged 46. She was buried in Hevelius’ grave at the church of Saint Catherine in Gdańsk. During her life and briefly after her demise, she evoked admiration in the scientific community, for instance for the courage that led her to engage in observation of celestial bodies. She was also renowned for exceptional beauty. Sadly, none of her daughters shared the scientific interests of their parents, which meant that, with Elisabetha’s death, there were no suitable candidates to look after the astronomer’s heritage. Hevelius’ book collection was sold at a public auction while his widow was still alive; with her death, their eldest daughter began to sell off all remembrances of her father, including a superb collection of scientific correspondence between the Gdańsk astronomer and the foremost European scholars of his era.
J. Hevelke, Gert Havelke und seine Nachfahren. Geschichte der Familie Hevelke-Hewelcke und des Astronomen Johannes Hevelius 1434-1927 (Gdańsk 1927).
K. Targosz, Jan Heweliusz uczony-artysta (Wrocław 1979).
P. Rybka, Heweliusz (Warszawa 1989).
Translation: Antoni Górny