Martin of Aragon
King Martin of Aragon, also known as Martin the Humane (1356 – 1410), ruled a realm encompassing Aragon, Valencia, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, from 1396, following his brother John I’s death without male issue – although he did have daughters. It was a generally turbulent reign, rife with unrest from scheming nobles, and from the start, Martin had to overcome challenges to his claimed right to ascend the throne, particularly from the family and partisans of his nieces, his late brother’s daughters. He beat back invasions by his nieces’ supporters, but they kept up their claims, as did their sons.
Reportedly, Martin died in 1410 after consuming an entire goose, but something about the fowl was foul and did not agree with him, and gave the king indigestion. He retired to his chamber and summoned his court jester, who took his time in arriving. When he finally appeared before the king, Martin asked him where he had been, and the jester replied: “in the next vineyard, your majesty, where I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if somebody had punished him for stealing figs“.
Something about that joke and the image it evoked struck king Martin as particularly hilarious – apparently, while some jokes are timeless and universal, many more are time and culture-sensitive, and in 15th century Aragon, deer hanging by the tail as punishment for stealing figs were apparently funny. So funny, in king Martin’s case, that he laughed uncontrollably for three hours, until he finally fell out of the bed, and hit the floor stone dead.
Failing to secure the succession to an illegitimate son, Martin ended up as the last king of the Aragonite House of Barcelona (878 – 1410) and was succeeded by a nephew, Ferdinand I of Aragon. Martin, however, had gone out laughing, which, all things considering, was not a bad ending for a royal life or dynasty, considering the typically nasty historical alternatives whereby royal dynasties and noble lineages usually come to an end.