Geraldine of the Albanians

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Her Majesty Queen Geraldine of the Albanians (1915-2002), who has died aged 87, was the wife of King Zog, the ruler of Albania for the two decades preceding the Second World War. As Countess Geraldine Apponyi, before her marriage to the 42-year-old bachelor King in 1938, she was one of Europe’s great aristocratic beauties, sometimes referred to as “The White Rose of Hungary”. At 22, she became the  second youngest queen in the world; only King Farouk of Egypt’s consort, Queen Farida, was younger. But in 1939, after only 388 days as Queen on Albanian soil, she and King Zog were forced to flee the country as Mussolini’s fascist Italian forces overran it. They lived the rest of their lives in exile.

Geraldine Apponyi was born in Budapest on August 6 1915, a daughter of the Hungarian nobleman Count Gyula Apponyi de Nagy-Appony and his wife Gladys, daughter of John H Stewart, the American consul at Antwerp. Geraldine’s parents had met in Paris in 1912, at a dinner party at the Austro-Hungarian Embassy, and were married in 1914. Her paternal grandfather, Count Ludwig Apponyi, was Grand Marshal of the Habsburg Court in Budapest.With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War, the Apponyis left Hungary,and went to Switzerland. They returned to Hungary in 1921 but, after Count Gyula’s death in 1924, Gladys Apponyi decided to take her three children – Geraldine, Virginia and Gyula – to live near her widowed mother at Menton, in the south of France.But when Gladys then remarried, to a French army officer, the Apponyi family insisted that the girls be returned to Hungary to be brought up. She agreed, and they were sent to board at the Sacred Heart School at Pressbaum, near Vienna, spending the holidays with their grandmother and aunts and uncles at the family’s country estate.

At 17, staying at the Karolyi Palace in Budapest, Geraldine came out at a ball given by the Hungarian Monarchists; one of several photographs taken of Geraldine at that ball would fix the direction of her life. Some years later she received, out of the blue, a letter from one of King Zog’s six sisters inviting her to stay in Albania. Anxious to find a European bride (and one without a past), King Zog had sent his sisters to Vienna and Budapest in search of a suitable candidate. They had sent back to Tirana copies of the photographstaken of Geraldine at the ball. King Zog’s trusty General Cyczy visited Geraldine and the Apponyis in Budapest to confirm the invitation, and Geraldine’s friend Countess Katherine Teleki was sent to Tirana to thank the King and to “have a good look round”. Subsequently, Geraldine Apponyi wrote to accept the invitation, and straight after Christmas 1937 she set off. The visit was a complete success; King Zog proposed marriage on New Year’s Day. Her guardian, Count Charles Apponyi, gave his consent and Geraldine was given the rank of Princess of Albania. The marriage – a civil ceremony as King Zog was a Muslim, his bride a Roman Catholic – took place in the spring of 1938. Geraldine wore a pearl and diamante wedding dress and orange blossom in her hair. She had six bridesmaids and the wedding cake, which she cut with her husband’s sabre, was ten-foot wide. The wedding presents included a phaeton and four Lippizzaner horses from Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, and a scarlet supercharged Mercedes from Adolf Hitler.

Queen Geraldine of the Albanians (1915-2002) with her son Prince  Leka. (Top) On 27 April 1938 Geraldine Apponyi married King Zog of Albania. Benito Mussolini’s foreign minister Count Ciano (left) acted as witness. A year later Italy invaded Albania and Zog and Geraldine fled into exile.

Queen Geraldine of the Albanians (1915-2002) with her son Prince Leka. (Top) On 27 April 1938 Geraldine Apponyi married King Zog of Albania. Benito Mussolini’s foreign minister Count Ciano (left) acted as witness. A year later Italy invaded Albania and Zog and Geraldine fled into exile.

With the Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939, the King and Queen fled with the infant Prince Leka – who spent only three days after his birth in Albania – via Greece to England. The puppet government announced that the Crown of Albania had passed to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. After a prolonged odyssey through Europe –Greece, Turkey, Romania, Poland, the Baltic states, Sweden, Belgium and France – the King, Queen and Prince arrived at the Ritz Hotel in London in 1940, with the King’s six sisters. They would remain in England for the duration of the war, moving from the Ritz to a rented country house.

After the war, once it was clear that they would be unable to return to Albania, they moved to Egypt, at the invitation of King Farouk, where they were joined by other exiled European Royalty. Following Abdel Nasser’s toppling of King Farouk and the latter’s departure from Egypt in 1952, Queen Geraldine watched Farouk board his yacht at Alexandria through binoculars. King Zog, whose health was failing, moved his family and entourage to France. After nearly a decade of declining health, King Zog died in hospital in Paris in April 1961; by the time of his death he had survived 55 assassination attempts. Queen Geraldine subsequently lived in Spain and South Africa, before returning to Albania at the invitation of 40 members of parliament four months ago.

Extract from Royalty Magazine Volume 18/02Royalty magazine Vol. 1802