OTD: Albanian Royal Family Returns to Country in 2002 after Six Decades in Exile

The Albanian Royal Family returns to their country for the first time since 1939.
Photograph (c) HRH Crown Prince Leka of the Albanians

On Friday, 28 June 2002, the Albanian royal family returned to Albania for the first time in sixty-three years. Among the returning members of the House of Zogu were King Leka I of the Albanians, his wife Queen Susan, his mother Queen Mother Geraldine, and his son Crown Prince Leka. The family had been living in Johannesburg, South Africa, since the 1980s. The Albanian royals had been forced to leave their country in 1939 in the face of invading Italian troops. Of the four members who returned in 2002, only two had ever been in Albania before: Geraldine had set foot in Albania in 1938 when she was courted by and married to King Zog I of Albania; her son Leka was born in Tirana on 5 April 1939, and, just two days later, his parents fled the country with their baby boy to escape the forces of Mussolini.


King Zog, Queen Geraldine, and Crown Prince Leka lived in exile in numerous countries. From August 1939 – June 1940, the family lived in France. However, the outbreak of World War II caused the king and queen to decide that they would be safer in the United Kingdom, which is where they relocated in June 1940. Zog, Geraldine, and Leka were to remain in Great Britain until January 1946. In that month, the royals moved to Egypt, where they lived in Cairo until July 1955. The change of the Egyptian government after the deposition of King Farouk was a key factor in the decision to return to France. From July 1955 until late 1961, the family lived in France. King Zog died in Paris on 9 April 1961. Queen Mother Geraldine and son Leka, the newly acclaimed King of the Albanians, moved to Madrid, Spain, where they resided until 1979. During that time, the royal family grew by one. In 1975, King Leka married Susan Cullen-Ward, an Australian teacher whom he had met at a dinner party in Sydney in 1970. Events forced King Leka and Queen Susan to depart Spain in early 1979. From February 1979 until April 1980, the royal couple lived in Rhodesia, during which time the queen was delivered of a stillborn baby daughter. When Robert Mugabe came to power in the newly formed country of Zimbabwe, Leka and Susan left and settled in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they were granted diplomatic status. It was there that their only surviving child, Crown Prince Leka, was born on 26 March 1982. In the meantime, Queen Mother Geraldine stayed in Madrid until 1995, when she left Spain to join her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson in South Africa. It was from there that the family departed Johannesburg for Tirana on 28 June 2002.


When they arrived at Tirana International Airport, the Albanian royal family was greeted by crowds of supporters. They took up residence in a home in central Tirana. Several months after the family’s return, Queen Mother Geraldine of Albania passed away on 22 October 2002 at the age of eighty-seven. Four days later, Her Majesty was buried in the Mausoleum of the Albanian Royal Family in Tirana. Two years after the death of her mother-in-law, Queen Susan of the Albanians died on 17 July 2004, aged sixty-three. The queen joined the queen mother in the royal mausoleum. Lastly, on 30 November 2011, King Leka I of the Albanians passed away at the Mother Teresa Hospital in Tirana at the age of seventy-two. He was buried with his wife and mother. In 2012, King Zog’s remains were repatriated from France and laid to rest beside his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law.

Crown Prince Leka (II) of the Albanians resides with his wife Crown Princess Elia at the Royal Compound in Tirana.

For more about the Royal Family of Albania, please visit this link: Albanian Royal Court

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