New evidence seems to rule out mercury poisoning
I had always heard that famed 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe had been poisoned by mercury, perhaps by his main rival, Johannes Kepler. But I recently learned that not only is the mercury belief unfounded, but researchers think Brahe most likely died from having to pee. Sadly, one of the world's greatest minds may have died from an excess of politeness.
When Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman, attended a royal banquet in October, 1601, etiquette kept him from excusing himself to use the facilities. As the story goes, his bladder ruptured as a result of the excessive pressure, and he died from the ensuing infection.
At the time, Brahe's physician reported that he died from kidney stones. It certainly seems marginally more plausible that Brahe would have died from being unable to urinate due to a blockage.
However, several sources online have pointed out that it isn't actually possible to rupture your bladder simply by "holding it." In the case of voluntarily refusing to urinate, eventually your body's reflexes will take over, and you will wet your pants. In the case of a physical blockage (like a kidney stone), the urine will back up into the kidneys, and the kidneys will fail first.
The mercury rumors came about from an exhumation of Brahe's corpse in 1901. It's not known how exactly the investigators decided that Brahe had been killed by mercury, but a recent exhumation showed that, although Brahe had a certain amount of mercury in his system, it was far less than a recent dose. And tests of his beard hairs showed that he had been exposed to less mercury in his last two weeks of life than he had been previously.
Aside from being famous as an early astronomer who was able to make precise measurements of stars and planets, for cataloguing over 1,000 stars, and for hiring Johannes Kepler (who went on to become a famous astronomer in his own right) as his assistant, Brahe is known for having had a metal prosthetic nose. Brahe's own nose had been cut off in a dueling accident, and the legend had always been that Brahe's replacement nose was made of silver.
But in fact, recent analysis of his facial bones proved that Tycho Brahe's nose had been made of brass. Perhaps a sensible choice since, unlike silver, brass is resistant to tarnishing. (You wouldn't want to have to scrub your nose with silver polish every week.)