Slipping through those tiny cracks of history (1): King Zog returns to Albania

King Zog of Albania marries

King Zog of Albania marries – er, what’s her name?

The remains of King Zog I of Albania, who died in 1961, have been disinterred from their resting place in a Paris cemetery, and  returned to Tiranë, capital of Albania.

The exhumation, accompanied by full military honours, took place earlier in the week. The King’s remains have been reburied in a specially built mausoleum for the Albanian royal family.[1]

The event is one of many to commemorate 100 years of Albanian independence from the Ottoman empire.

King Zog?

Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli was born (in 1895) into the Ottoman feudal aristocracy.

He embarked on a prominent and colourful career, was one of the signatories of the declaration of Albanian independence in 1912, and served in several public and military positions: on the death of his father (1908 or so), he succeeded him as a district governor. He fought in WWI as a volunteer on the Austro-Hungarian side. After the war, he became involved in politics, supporting the emerging young post-war government of Albania.

He was appointed Interior Minister and head of the military. It was during this period (the early 20s) that he formally changed his name from the Turkified Zogolli to Zogu.[2]

Briefly exiled following a political opponent’s assassination in which he was implicated, he managed to return to Albania in 1924, and was appointed Prime Minister soon after. In 1925, he became the first President of Albania.

His government was modelled on his own European experiences (a forced stay in Vienna, then Rome, at the end of WWI), even though Albanian society generally retained the old Ottoman structure. He introduced reforms – abolishing Islamic law, for example, replacing it with the notion of civil law, based on the Swiss precedent – yet he imposed a police state, complete with its own, unique salute.

Self-proclaimed King

Zogu was crowned King of the Albanians in September, 1928, also assuming the mantle of Field Marshal of the Royal Albanian Army. While claiming himself (through his mother’s family) to be a descendant of the medieval Albanian hero, Skanderbeg,[3] he instituted a constitutional monarchy heavily influenced by the Italian model – at that time, Italy was one of the only European countries to take any interest in Albania.

In 1938, he married Countess Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi, who was half-American, half-Austrian. Their only child, HRH Crown Prince Leka, was born in April, 1939. Meanwhile, during his reign, he survived no fewer than 55 assassination attempts, including one outside the Vienna Opera. Typically, he shot back at his would-be assassin.

Two days after the birth of Zog’s son, Mussolini invaded Albania.The family fled, first to England, later moving to Egypt, then France.

The Albanian monarchy was abolished in Zog’s absence by the communist regime in 1946.

End of a bizarre era

King Zog died in April, 1961, aged 65, survived by his wife and only son. The latter was proclaimed as H.M. King Leka of the Albanians by the exile Albanian community.

His widow, Queen Geraldine, died in Tiranë in 2002. Their son, the self-styled Crown Prince Leka, passed away in 2011, still claiming to be the legitimate royal heir.

Their grandson, even now known as Prince Leka, currently serves as a political adviser to the Albanian President, Bujar Faik Nishani.

And so, after 51 years, King Zog I’s remains have finally been returned to his home country.

A little-known, but fascinating, modern man of C20 history. You couldn’t make all this up!


The above is no more than the surface story. If you want to dig a little deeper, ‘the bizarre King Zog’, ‘a despotic brigand’, ‘the last ruler of romance’, then the items in History Today links are recommended (as starters):[4]

Zog’s exile in 1925 was precipitated by someone attempting to kill him in Parliament in 1923. This was according to the traditions of a ‘blood honour’ system that still exists in Albania, the Kanun (of Leke) or Gjakmarrja[5] – I leave you to pursue this fascinating, but complex topic.

Much later, a similar incident is supposed to have occurred in the Albanian parliament. Enver Hoxha[5] (allegedly) turned on one of his deputies, drew a pistol and shot him dead at the table. Try this guy if you want to learn about a monster (supported in WWII as a partisan by the British). I’ve personally met several of Hoxha’s “victims of justice”.

Zog, while not widely recognised by the European royal families because of his lack of established connections was, nevertheless, welcomed into exile by Egypt, whose rulers had Albanian antecedents from the early 19th. century, albeit “imposed” upon them.

“Muhammad Ali was an Albanian commander of the Ottoman army that was sent to drive Napoleon’s forces out of Egypt, but upon the French withdrawal, seized power himself and forced the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II to recognise him as Wāli, or Governor of Egypt in 1805.”[6]

[1]: BBC online

[2]: Wikipedia

[3]: Skanderbeg

[4]: History Today (several articles)

[5]: Wikipedia

[6]: Wikipedia

Image: forensic genealogy


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