Queen Geraldine of Albania Settles in England.

Following a difficult sea journey from the West Coast of France, the Albanian royal party landed in Plymouth, in England, on 26 June 1940. In the early hours of 27 June, Queen Geraldine joined the rest of the Albanian royal retinue on a train up to London, where rooms had already been secured (at an excellent discount) on the top floor of the Ritz in Piccadilly. However, the management also granted the Queen a rare privilege: She was given the key to a Ladies Cloakroom in the basement and often took refuge there with her infant son and his nurse during the evening bombing raids of the September Blitz. Her husband, King Zog preferred to work late into the night in his sitting room upstairs, usually in the company of his sisters. On at least two occasions, Geraldine and Zog narrowly escaped death or serious injury when their hotel suite was damaged by the impact of bombs falling nearby. The Queen now wanted to be of some use and proposed undertaking a first aid course organised by the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the King would not give his approval. Being a devout Roman Catholic, Her Majesty insisted on attending Sunday Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street, Mayfair.

As the air raids worsened, the Queen persuaded her husband to leave London. The entourage moved temporarily to the Berystede Hotel at Sunninghill in Berkshire until Geraldine managed to secure the lease on a large house nearby, Forest Ridge. The King’s six sisters were accommodated at a neighbouring property, Lowood, while other officials lived in the Sunninghill School House. The Queen was now at liberty to go to the local cinemas with her husband or enjoy long walks in nearby woods with Leka and his newly acquired Cocker Spaniel, ‘Woozy’. She also took tea with Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, the Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise, who had also relocated from London to Englemere House in Ascot. However, Geraldine was constantly anxious for the safety of her family, who were now scattered between the South of France and Hungary and of whom she had heard little.

In November, there were several daytime air raids over Sunninghill and Ascot; a school was destroyed and the local church damaged. The Queen also found that ‘although life was pleasant [at Sunninghill], we were very cramped for space.’ Eventually, Geraldine learned that a much larger property, Parmoor House, at Frieth, near Henley-on-Thames, was for lease following the death of the owner, so she ‘raced there immediately’ and signed a long-lease. The house required extensive modernisation: electricity was installed, along with a new kitchen and extra bathrooms. Fortunately, the King’s sister, Princess Adile, was a competent cook and also attended to the grocery shopping. Geraldine, meanwhile, kept chickens for their eggs.

During this period (1941-46) at Parmoor House, the King and Queen received many official visitors including retired British diplomats who had served in Tirana (one of whom, Sir Andrew Ryan, acted as liaison officer between the King and the Foreign Office) and leaders of various governments-in-exile, such as de Gaulle of France. The highlight of the ‘social season’ at Parmoor was a reception for ‘Loyal Albanians’ held on 28 November each year to celebrate Albania’s National Day. Furthermore, at Christmas, members of the local Home Guard would call-by to sing carols to the King, Queen and their entourage.

In due course, Prince Leka received tutoring at home from Xheladin Nushi, who had been a school teacher in Albania. This was supplemented by lessons from Geoffrey Slater, the headmaster of Lane End School. Mr Slater’s wife, Florence, taught English to King Zog. Queen Geraldine also ensured that the German-speaking Swiss staff (a governess and two nurses who attended to Zog’s ailing sister, Princess Ruhije) spoke only in French in public out of tact.

The Queen often ventured to Marlow (accompanied by two burly bodyguards) to shop and to have her hair coiffed at ‘Maison George’. She might also take tea with a local worthy such as General Percy’s niece, Anne Ritchie. Geraldine regularly attended St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in the town. Occasionally, Her Majesty undertook an official engagement: In May 1945, she travelled to Northamptonshire to open a fete at Gosgrove to raise funds for a new village hall.

Perhaps the Queen’s closest friend in England was Lady Darnley (née Rosemary Potter) whose mother-in-law lived nearby at Bellehatch Park. Geraldine would also visit Rosemary at her Kent home, Cobham Hall and would stand as Godmother to her friend’s daughter, Melissa Geraldine. Lord Darnley kindly arranged for the Albanian royals to have a holiday at Portmeirion in Wales. This was followed by a ‘bucket and spade’ type holiday at Brighton.

However, by the time the British government recognised the communist regime of Enver Hoxha as the provisional government of Albania, in November 1945, King Zog had decided to move to Egypt, at the invitation of King Farouk. Albania was declared a republic on 11 January 1946, so officially the Albanian monarchy had ceased to exist. For Geraldine, however, her lasting memories of Parmoor House and Frieth were ‘of happy days….It was an honour to live in England…’

One thought on “Queen Geraldine of Albania Settles in England.

  1. This is such an interesting article on Queen Geraldine! Thank you for sending it to me

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