King Zog l of Albania and his consort, Queen Geraldine, bore a truly creepy resemblance to Adolf Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun. The similarities between Germany’s Nazi leader and Albania’s first, last and only monarch didn’t stop there. Both were fascist dictators whose preferred method of dealing with political enemies was to have them murdered in droves. Zog I, however, appears to have been more liberal than most of his extremist contemporaries. The author’s been unable to unearth any record of Albanian minorities having been persecuted under King Zog’s rule, and in 1938 he gave asylum to Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany. This asylum would prove brief, for Zog l was overthrown by invading Italians, whose leader, Mussolini, had been best man at the King’s wedding, in 1939. Zog l, his family and court escaped with most, if not all, of his country’s gold reserves. He is, however, looked upon favorably by most Albanian historians. He was the first ruler of Albania to make an effort to modernize and unify the country, and is generally considered the father of the Albanian nation.
His 1938 marriage to the half American, half Hungarian Countess Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi, who was a distant relative of the, at that time, future American president, Richard Nixon, was not, according to author Geoffrey Bocca, King Zog’s first attempt at matrimony. In Kings Without Thrones, Bocca writes that legend has it that the King, who was born a tribal aristocrat named Ahmet Zogalli, attempted to contract his first engagement in his youth to a maiden named Miriana Zougdidi. Her father didn’t approve of the betrothal and forbade it. Outraged, Zog then ordered his family’s retainers to smuggle his beloved out of her father’s compound. Having been alerted of this plan, his daughter’s apparent willingness to go along with it, and presumably far more outraged than Zog, Miririana’s father retaliated by stabbing her to death with a dagger. He then had his daughter’s corpse placed in a box and sent to her would be abductor and fiancé. Zog retaliated sometime later, perhaps after declaring himself Albania’s king in 1928, by having Miririana’s father and the rest of the Zougdidi clan murdered.
Although Bocca cannot vouch for this story being anything more than a modern tall tale, it can’t be considered unusual, or dismissed as merely apocryphal, when placed within the context of Albanian history. Easily the most notorious aspect of Albanian culture is its centuries old practice of “blood vengeance”: the right of every Albanian to murder anyone whose justifiably wronged them. There also exists a centuries old system of tribal laws that clearly delineate the offenses that are punishable by death. Although this form of vigilante justice is outlawed under Albania’s current constitution, its rumored to be in wide practice to this day.
Geoffrey Bocca also writes that Zog l was the target of several hundred blood vendettas throughout his political career. At the time of his coronation King Zog became the target of a blood vendetta by backing out of an engagement with the daughter of fellow aristocrat, Shefqet Bey Verlacci. Among his first acts as king was to appoint his mother to supervise the palace kitchens for fear that he may be poisoned. It’s been estimated that he also survived 55 assassination attempts during his reign as King; the most infamous of which occurred while he was on a state visit to Austria in 1931. While leaving the Vienna State Opera house after having attended a performance of Verde’s Pagliacci, he was entering his car when several attackers began firing upon him. King Zog l immediately took a revolver out of his tuxedo jacket and fired back. This incident makes him the first head of state in recorded history to have conducted a shoot out with his own would be assassins. Zog may’ve been an autocrat and political gangster, but for this fact alone the dude was personally kind of cool.