Was Charles Anjou really the first King of Albania?
Updated: Dec 5, 2022
A few months ago I wrote a quick post on Instagram about Charles of Anjou and his proclamation as King of Albania in 1272.
As I put this quick post together, I wrote that his time as King didn’t last long and that it would be over 500 years until an independent Albania was proclaimed.
I wondered why this was the case and of course fell down a rabbit hole.
Albania has a very interesting history as a nation and, like so many other parts of eastern Europe has suffered from arbitrary lines drawn on a map.
How did it get to that point though? Well, here is a very brief history of Albania. It is rather complicated in parts so please forgive the jumping around but before I begin let me recant my note that Charles Anjou was the first King of Albania.
Sure, he may have been the first to use the title “King” but there were others before him ruling over historic incarnations of Albania.
The Early History of Albania
What today is known as Albania, was home during antiquity times to the Indo-European people, namely the Ardiaei.
The Illyrian tribe known as Ardiaei ruled over most of modern-day Albania until 167BC when the Romans conquered the region. Throughout the time of Roman occupation the demographics of the area developed and diversified with the incorporation of Slavs and Barbarians as they conquered various parts of the original Illyrian kingdoms.
The Historian Michael Attaliates (see footnote below) was the first to make reference to the ethnographic Albania’s as he notes the Albanoi taking part in the revolt against Constantinople.[i]
Following the split of the Roman Empire into East and West things became complicated in the region, as what is now Albania, was located along the division. This would ultimately result in the modern mix of Catholicism and orthodox religious beliefs that splits the country today.
In 1190 the first recognised foundations of an Albania State came into being with the creation of the Principality of Arbanon by the Progoni Family whose capital was Kruja.
Located in the extremity of the Byzantine Empire, the principality enjoyed a certain level of autonomy. This autonomy lasted until the neighbouring Epirus (one of the Greek states that rose to power following the fall of the Byzantine Empire) invaded around 1216, ending the rule of the Progoni Family after just two generations.[ii]
The last of the Progoni ruling family was Demetrio, who was the first to style himself “Prince of the Albanian’s”. He ruled from 1208, succeeding his brother and marrying Komnena, the daughter of neighbouring Serbia.
Until the area was conquered by the Bulgarian Empire in 1230 it was left to operate relatively autonomously as part of the Epiros Empire. This ended with the Bulgarian invasion when the concept of an Albian state was effectively ended with the conquest of the Nicaeans (the remnants of the Byzantine Empire) in 1252.
Having said that, there was a rebellion by the people of Arbanon in 1257 however it was squashed with the area being annexed and a Byzantine administration installed. This effectively dissolved any sense of “Albania” for countless years, however it must be noted that in 1272, Charles of Anjou was proclaimed the first “King of Albania”, solidifying the union of Albania and the Kingdom of Sicily, ending Byzantine influence over the region (again).
Less than a decade later though, a Byzantine offensive pushed out the Anjou’s but they did manage to hold onto a small area of Durres, until 1368 (keep reading for what happened next)!
Who was Charles Anjou and Why are we talking about him?
Charles of Anjou hailed from the Capetian family which is famed for providing members of the French royal family.
He was the youngest son and thirteenth child of Louis VIII of France, thus the old tale of a spare looking for a crown!
When his brother became King Louis IX of France, he received Anjou and Maine where he was titled Count, this was just the start.
In 1263 he seized the Kingdom of Sicily where he became King and he continued to gain territory as family members died.
In February 1272 he came to an arrangement with the Albian chiefs and named himself King of Albania. From here he had a good shot at the Byzantine Empire, but other troubles kept this on the to-do list rather than making it a reality, especially as he couldn’t gain the support of the Pope for such an invasion.
Charles personal empire grew so large that it was hard to maintain, however this came to not matter very much as in December 1284 he fell seriously ill and died on 7 January 1285. His Kingdom was dissolved.
What Happened Next?
Most of the region had fallen to the Byzantine's but the Anjou family did hold onto Dures until 1368.
At this time, in 1368 Karl Thopia (a Albian noble and true-born Albanian, unlike the Anjou’s) led an uprising of Albanian’s and captured Durres, establishing the Princedom of Albania (one of about twelve established in the region of Albania during the Middle Ages).
Throughout this time Catholicism rapidly began to replace the existing orthodox beliefs.
In 1415 the Principality would fall to the Ottoman Empire, as would most of Albania with the Ottoman invasion beginning in 1385. By 1431 the Ottoman’s occupied most of the region despite strong opposition from a number of Albanian’s (more on that and the Princedom's in the next blog)!
CLICK HERE TO KEEP READING WITH PART TWO!
[i] Michael Attaleiates was a Byzantine historian born c. 1022 in likely Attaleia (modern Turkey). He moved to Constantinople to study law where he had success as a judge, becoming popular with a number of Emperors. In 1072 he compiled Ponema Nomikon for Emperor Michael VII which was a summary of the existing law. Around 1080 he published his “The History” which was a history of Byzantine Empire from 1034 to 1079 focusing on the decline of the ruling dynasty. This is work is considered to be mostly accurate and provides an invaluable insight into the era. It is thought that he died around this time so never saw the outcome of his work.
[ii] The first of the Progoni rulers was Progon of Kruja. Little is known of him however he ruled the Principality of Arabon from 1190 to 1198 at which point his son Gjin assumed power. When Gjin died in 1208 he was succeeded by his brother Demetrio. Upon the death of Demetrio, Gregorios Kamonas, the son-in-law of Gjin and subsequent husband of Demetrio’s widow, Komnea inherited the principality’s rule.
"The World, First Edition", Lonely Planet (2014)
"The Medieval World Vol. 12" (Routledge, 1997)
"Geographica: World Atlas and Encyclopaedia", (Random House Australia, 1999)
Alfred Znamierowski, "The World Enclyclopedia of Flags", (London: Lorenz Books, 2004)
Websites and articles:
Encyclopaedia Britannica (multiple pages), https://www.britannica.com/
"Albania Country Profile", BBC World News (1 March 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17679574
"Albanian Studies", https://albanianstudies.weebly.com/
"Albanian Heraldry", https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Albanian_heraldry