Kratzer, Nicholas (DNB00)


KRATZER, NICHOLAS (1487–1550?), mathematician, was born at Munich, Bavaria, in 1487, and studied in the universities of Cologne and Wittemberg, graduating B.A. at the latter place. Coming to England he made the acquaintance of Richard Foxe, bishop of Winchester, who on 4 July 1517 appointed him to a fellowship in his newly founded college of Corpus Christi, Oxford, and on 20 Feb. 1522–3 he was incorporated B.A. He proceeded M.A. 18 March, when he was described in the ‘University Register’ as ‘notissimus & probatissimus et in mathematicis et in philosophicis.’ Kratzer lectured on astronomy in Oxford, and soon afterwards was appointed mathematical reader there by Cardinal Wolsey. He was skilled in the construction of sun-dials, and erected two in Oxford, one in the garden of Corpus Christi, reproduced in Fowler's ‘History of Corpus Christi College,’ p. 84, and another in the south churchyard of St. Mary's Church (removed in 1744). After the assembly of bishops and divines which met at Wolsey's house in 1521 had condemned Luther's doctrines, ‘a testimony was sent to Oxford, and fastned on the Dial in St. Marys churchyard by Nich. Kratzer, the maker and contriver thereof.’ Leland refers to this dial in his ‘De Encomiis.’

In 1520 Kratzer was at Antwerp on a visit to Erasmus, where he met Albert Dürer, then on his famous journey to the Netherlands. On 12 Oct. 1520 Tunstal wrote to Henry VIII saying that he had met Kratzer at Antwerp, ‘an Almayn deviser of the King's Horologes,’ and he asked that he should be allowed to remain until the pending election of the emperor was over. ‘Being,’ Tunstal added, ‘born in High Almayn, and having acquaintance of many of the Princes, he might be able to find out the mind of the Electors touching the affairs of the Empire’ (Letters and Papers Henry VIII, iii. i. 1018). In the same year among Henry's payments appears the quarterly salary of 100s. to ‘Nicholas Craser an Estronomyer’ (ib. p. 408). Dürer drew Kratzer's portrait, but it is not known to be extant. On 24 Oct. 1524 Kratzer wrote to Dürer from London a letter asking him to draw him a model of an instrument for measuring distances, which is in the collection of Herr Lempertz at Cologne; the reply from Dürer to Kratzer is in the Guildhall Library in London. When Hans Holbein [q. v.] came to London, Kratzer was one of his earliest friends. Holbein painted a magnificent portrait of Kratzer at a table on which are many mathematical instruments; this picture is now at the Louvre, and was painted in 1528, when Kratzer was forty-one years of age. A good copy was lent by Viscount Galway to the Tudor Exhibition, 1890 (No. 129). In 1529 Kratzer was sent with Hugh Bozvell and Hans Bour to search the king's woods and mines in Cornwall and to try to melt the ore (ib. v. 314). Among Cromwell's ‘Remembrances’ for 1533 is an item ‘To send to Nich. Cracher for the conveyance of Christopher Mount's letters.’ Nicolas Bourbon, the French poet, in a letter to Thomas Soliman, the king's secretary, prefixed to Bourbon's ‘Παιδαγωγειον,’ Lyons, 1536, sends greetings among other friends, including Holbein, ‘D. Nic. Cratzero regio astronomo, viro honestis salibus, facetiisque ac leporibus concreto.’ Payments to Nicolas, the king's astronomer, frequently occur in the accounts of the royal household.

In the preface to Guido Bonatus's treatise on astronomy (Basel, 1550) Kratzer is praised as a mathematician, ‘qui ita bonus & probus est ut majore quam mathematicorum fortuna sit dignus.’ He died soon after 1550. Many of his books came into the hands of Dr. John Dee [q. v.] and Richard Forster. Kratzer left two books in manuscript, copies of which are found in Corpus Christi (clii.) and the Bodleian (MS. 504) Libraries at Oxford. First, ‘Canones Horopti,’ dedicated to Henry VIII, with a concluding note to intimate that the subjects of his Oxford lectures were ‘Astronomiam super sphæram materialem Johannis de Sacro Bosco, compositionem astrolabis, & geographiam Ptolemæi.’ His second work, ‘De Compositione Horologiorum,’ contains ‘(1) Compositio & utilitates quadrantis; (2) De arte metrica sive mensurandi; (3) Compositio cylindri & aliorum instrumentorum mathematicorum; (4) Scripta plurima mathematica per N. Kratz.’ In the Cottonian MSS. is a letter from N. Kracerus to T. Cromwell, dated London, 24 Aug. 1538, and conveying information received from Germany about the Turks.

[Notes kindly supplied by Lionel Cust, esq., F.S.A.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. i. 59, 62, 190, ii. 457; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 460; Hessel's Eccles. Lond. Batav. Archiv. i. 3, 888–9; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of Univ. of Oxford (Gutch), vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 836, pt. i. p. 19; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 144, 8th ser. ii. 146; Leland, De Encomiis, ed. 1859, p. 19; Thausing's Albert Dürer's Life and Works (Engl. trans. 1882); Woltmann's Holbein und Seine Zeit, 1874–6; Casel van Mander's Livre des Peintres, ed. Hymans, 1884; Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII; Clark's Oxford Colleges, 1891.]

R. E. A.