On This Day: The Death of a King

By: Ferran Garcés

In the header photo, we see the tomb of King Martin I the Humane, in the royal pantheon of the Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet. The work is by Frederic Marés and was inaugurated in 1952. The Bellesguard Tower is inspired by the old palace where this monarch wanted to peacefully spend the last years of his life. Unfortunately, destiny did not allow it.

On a day like today, in 1410, Martin I would die in very tragic circumstances. This is the summarized story of those final moments. A story, by the way, with many events that took place in the month of March (1). In fact, King Martin I ascended the throne due to the sudden death of his brother, John I the Hunter, on May 19, 1396, and it was on May 26, 1409, when he moved to the palace of Bellesguard. It was also on May 12, 1410, when he left it never to return…

Before May 26, 1409

At the end of 1408, the new monarch bought an old manor house called Vallblanch and began transforming it into a royal palace. Letters have reached us where Martin I requests a series of products and personnel to embellish and arrange the new palace to his pleasure. For example, grapevines, fruit trees, stained glass, and a priest from Santes Creus (2).

However, at the beginning of 1409, Martin I had more serious concerns. On the island of Sardinia, a rebellion had broken out. Martin the Younger, his eldest son and the only one who had reached adulthood, had to quell it. To help him, the city of Barcelona, at the request of Martin I, was forming a war fleet.

May 25, 1409

From the beach of Barcelona, on this day, the monarch saw that fleet set out towards Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, where his eldest son awaited him. The next day, he moved for the first time to the palace of Bellesguard, although the renovations were not yet finished (3).

After May 26, 1409

While the monarch began to settle into his new palace, two very different news arrived. In the first, he was informed of Martin the Younger’s victory in Sanluri, Sardinia. In the second, received a few weeks later, the message was that the eldest son had suddenly died of a fever.

Since the mother of the deceased, Maria de Luna, had died at the end of 1406, it was now necessary to find a new queen to provide a new heir to the crown. The wedding between Martin I and Margarita de Prades, the chosen young woman, was held in the new chapel of the Bellesguard palace, but due to the mourning for the recent death of Martin the Younger, it was a very sober ceremony.


Margarita de Prades



Parallel to this mix of good and bad news, a young Ferdinand of Castile, son of Martin I’s sister, was conquering the Malagan city of Antequera, earning the nickname by which he is known. His fate would soon cross with the tragic outcome of the Bellesguard story…


May 12, 1410

King Martin I left his beloved residence of Bellesguard to attend to state affairs or to escape the palace renovations, which were still unfinished. He would never return…


May 31, 1410

Death would surprise him on a day like today at the old Monastery of Valldonzella, which at that time was near the current Creu Coberta, on the outskirts of Barcelona.


Monastery of Valldonzella



With the death of Martin I the Humane, the House of Barcelona became extinct, causing a severe dynastic crisis. It would not be resolved until two years later, with the so-called Compromise of Caspe, from which a new lineage, the Trastámara dynasty, emerged, with the figure of Ferdinand I of Antequera, who was proclaimed King of Aragon on June 28, 1412.


The new monarch would never use the palace of Bellesguard. In a short time, it would become ruins and legends. However, ruins that, five centuries later, Gaudí would restore, and legends that he, and his disciple Domènec Sugranyes, would evoke in the current Bellesguard Tower. Come and see how!…





Domènec Sugranyes





The main reference book followed for this chronology is one of the few specific studies that currently exist on Bellesguard: Vall i Comaposada, Josep M. (2014), Bellesguard. From the Residence of Martin the Humane to the Tower of Gaudí, Duxelm Editorial, Barcelona, p. 43-73.


If the reader prefers a novel, we recommend *The Heirs of the Earth*, by Ildefonso Falcones. Specifically, chapter 17, which mentions the last days of King Martin I.


Vall i Comaposada, Josep M. (2014), Op. Cit., p. 139-149.


Tasis i Marca, Rafael (1980), *Peter the Ceremonious and His Children*, History of Catalonia. Catalan Biographies. Vol VII, Vicens Vives, Barcelona, p. 230.