Thursday 8 October 2009

Hail, Zog!

Today is the birthday of the self-proclaimed King Zog of Albania (born 1895), a glamorous, high-living figure who reigned as constitutional monarch from 1928 to 1939, replaced Islamic law with a Swiss-style civil code, survived more than 50 assassination attempts - in one of which he exchanged fire with his would-be assassins - invented the Zogist salute (right hand flat over the heart, palm facing downwards), was deposed by Mussolini, and ended his days as a Riviera recluse. The throne of Albania seems for a while to have exerted a strange fascination. The cricketer - or rather, in John Arlott's phrase, 'the most variously gifted Englishman of any age' - C.B. Fry claimed he was offered it while on League of Nations business in Geneva in 1920. He might well have been - but one Otto Witte, a German circus acrobat and fantasist, claimed to have gone one better and been crowned King of Albania in 1913. Noting his resemblance to a nephew of the Sultan who had been invited by some Albanian Muslims to assume the throne, Witte travelled to Albania with a sword-swallower friend, and was duly acclaimed as King by local troops. In the five days before his ruse was discovered, he enjoyed the delights of the harem and took the opportunity to declare war on Montenegro. Unsurprisingly, no evidence was ever found to support Witte's story - but the Berlin police allowed him to describe himself as 'former King of Albania' on his identity card. I wouldn't be surprised if Albania's national hero, Norman Wisdom, regales his captive audience at the twilight home where he now resides with tales of how he too was offered the throne of Albania.


  1. The peculiar thing is that Zog changed his name from Zogu because he thought it would sound more dignified to non-Albanians.

  2. I've always wanted to visit. There is something alluring about the idea of a country where nothing works, where you can't believe a word any of them say and where Fodor-inspired promises of making a "friend for life" masks their collective atavistic impulse to kill you.

  3. Zog came to England and stayed in exile between '41 and '46 at Parmoor House Nr Frieth, just west of High Wycombe. Paxman devoted a chapter of his book Royalty to Zog. Paxman lives 6km to the west of Frieth in Stonor.
    The local rumour is that a member of his court who came over from Albania, and lived nearby at Lane End, made off with a considerable amount of Queen Geraldine's jewelry, never to be recovered.