Skip to main content

"The Bizarre King Zog" of Albania

King Zog I of Albania.

King Zog I of Albania.

From Son of the Ottoman Empire to King of Albania

President Zogu, King Zog I of Albania was born Ahmed Muhtar Bey Zogolli of the House of Zogu on the 8th October 1895 at Castle Burgajet in the north of the Ottoman Empire. He was the son of an Albanian chief (beylik) and landowner in the Mati region named Xhemal (Jamal) Pasha Zogolli and his second wife, the influential Sadije Toptani.

By creating the role of king for himself in Albania in 1928, Zogolli/Zogu became and remains the only European Muslim king in history. He ruled for eleven years. The Times newspaper referred to him as "The Bizarre King Zog." He invented his own distinctive salute and was as courteous as he was murderous and ambitious. Through his mismatched power alliance with Mussolini's Italy, he was forced to abdicate by his one-time champion in the lead up to the Second World War.

President Zogu of Albania

During the First World War the old order had broken down and in 1918 Albania was under threat. Its neighbouring countries believed that Albanian lands should be subsumed into the newly developing powers that were once within the Ottoman Empire.

As a statesman using the name Ahmed Zogu he had supported Austria during the war and his political career and leadership of the Popular Party saw him serve in several rapidly formed governments in the early 1920s with a tenure as Prime Minister. He was exiled to Yugoslavia in June 1924.

Seven months later he returned to Albania with an army composed largely of mercenaries funded by several oil companies and Albania's powerful families. He declared himself to be the president on the 1st February 1925 although dictator was a far more appropriate title.

His presumption in taking over the country led to a staggering 50+ assassination attempts, all of which he survived, and his opponents were swiftly removed, often brutally. The systematic murders were, it was claimed, the only way to rule Albania effectively. He coped with the stress of ruling and butchering by chain-smoking and watching early Hollywood movies. Charlie Chaplin was a favourite.

King Zog I of Albania-Viva La Vida

King Zog I of Albania

Zogu realised that Albania required an international ally to prosper and modernise so he aligned himself with Benito Mussolini of Italy. Their military alliance ensured that the Albanians knew there was a far greater force behind their president. However, Italy imposed its might on Albania, dictating to the dictator Zogu.

With Mussolini's approval, Zogu the president elevated himself to King Zog I of Albania in 1928. The new constituent assembly's members were strictly vetted and complied with Zog and his government's visions.

His coronation was held on the 1st September 1928, but to ensure that Zog was not assassinated there were no spectators lining the route between the palace and the parliament house in Tirana. Instead, a multitude of Albanian flags was displayed on properties and in windows. The flags had been mass-produced in Italy for the occasion.

Zog swore on the Koran and the Bible during his coronation service and cries of "Long live the King" resonated throughout the capital. A six-day-long celebration followed.

His mother Sadije was installed as the Queen Mother and she supervised the royal kitchens so that her son could not be poisoned.

Schoolgirls making the Zogist salute which Zog I introduced.

Schoolgirls making the Zogist salute which Zog I introduced.

King Zog and Queen Consort Geraldine of Albania in Sweden during their exile. The ladies to the queen's left are Zog's sisters.

King Zog and Queen Consort Geraldine of Albania in Sweden during their exile. The ladies to the queen's left are Zog's sisters.

Mussolini Orders Zog's Exile

By 1932 Zog was concerned about Italy's hold over Albania; in the late 1930's they controlled the country's finances and military. Unfortunately for Zog, he had signed a 20-year agreement with Mussolini and that became effective and unbreakable in 1927.

On the 27th April 1938 Zog married Countess Géraldine Margit Virginia Olga Mária Apponyi de Nagy-Appony. She became Queen Consort of Albania but her reign in situ was short.

In 1939, as the Second World War drew closer, Mussolini had his own plan for Albania. namely to claim it as an Italian protectorate and to depose Zog. The smaller country didn't pose a significant threat in a David versus Goliath fight. Goliath (Italy) was sure to win. Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III became Albania's official ruler on the 7th April 1939.

The pretender to the Albanian throne Crown Prince Leka II, grandson of Zog I.

The pretender to the Albanian throne Crown Prince Leka II, grandson of Zog I.

Albanian Royalty?

Zog wandered off into exile and travelled around Europe, making temporary homes for himself, Geraldine and his son Crown Prince Leka (born on the 5th April 1939) as they roamed. Although Zog hoped to be reinstated after the war, a communist regime took control of Albania and he formally abdicated on the 2nd January 1946.

Zog died in France on the 9th April 1961. Geraldine survived him by 41 years.

Albanian royalists referred to Zog's son as Crown Prince Leka I and to his grandson as Crown Prince Leka Zogu II. Today the latter would be in the 11th year of his reign; instead he has a political career in Albania and has been an advisor to the prime minister.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle