Slow Travel

Exiled heads of state: from Beneš to Zog

The Chilterns have welcomed exiled leaders, many fleeing Axis occupations during World War II.

The Chilterns, Thames Valley and Vale of Aylesbury have often welcomed exiled foreign presidents and monarchs, many fleeing Axis occupations of their countries in World War II.

Beneš The president of Czechoslovakia moved out of London after the Blitz in 1940 to the Abbey at Aston Abbotts, from where he commuted into the capital to plot his return home. A Czech army platoon guarded him, when they weren’t playing darts at the Bull and Butcher, which sadly no longer exists.

De Gaulle The leader of France escaped to England in 1940 and, a year later, moved into Rodinghead, a villa in Little Gaddesden. He attended mass regularly with his family in Berkhamsted. While most details of his stay were kept secret, de Gaulle did take the salute from the Home Guard at Potten End on Remembrance Day 1941 – and, so the story goes, was annoyed because nobody could find a French flag for the occasion.

Louis XVIII of France The French king stayed at Hartwell House between 1809 and 1814. Louis’s queen, niece and brother (later Charles X) also stayed, as did Gustavus IV, the exiled King of Sweden, almost 200 courtiers, and numerous chickens and rabbits reared in cages on the roof, as Louis’s court adapted it into a miniature farm.

Sikorski The Polish President stayed at Iver Lodge, a Grade II-listed early Georgian house in the village of Iver, during the Nazi occupation of his country.

Wilhelmina of the Netherlands The Queen of the Netherlands stayed at Stubbings House, a Grade II-listed Victorian mansion just outside Maidenhead, during World War II. The building is now used for offices, but a café is open to the public.

King Zog The king fled Albania after the 1939 Italian annexation, making his way to France and then England, initially at Sunninghill in Berkshire before moving to Parmoor.

Want to learn more about the history of the Chilterns & the Thames Valley? Check out our comprehensive guide:

Slow Travel Chilterns & the Thames Valley