The Hungarian girl who wanted to become the Queen of the Albanians
Geraldine Apponyi wanted to be for the Albanians who Sissy was for Hungarian people, says mno.hu. Her life story was beautiful and tragic at the same time.
We’re back in 1927; a 23 year-old fatherless countess works as a shop assistant in the gift shop of the Hungarian National Museum. Geraldine Apponyi had to take the job because her family was impoverished. She received the job with the intercession of her kin, István Zichy, director of the museum, therefore she was rather well paid. She also worked in the tourist pavilion of the museum, since she studied in the US and in Paris, and spoke English, German, and French, and popularised the museum in these languages.
The Albanian king, Zogu I, saw a photo of the woman who was occasionally a model. He had been looking for a wife for a while among the European aristocratic families and the beautiful Apponyi girl caught his eye. Zogu I. invited Geraldine to Tirana, with the assistance of her sister staying in Budapest, for the New Year’s Eve of 1937, and Geraldine accepted the invitation and travelled to Tirana.
“Then I met the king, and, just like in fairy tales, seeing him and loving him was a moment’s work.
I know it sounds strange, but we fell in love in a few moments and what started off as a marriage based on mere calculation turned out to be one of true love” – Geraldine said later. In fact, the Albanian king proposed to her on the New Year’s Eve party and Europe was preparing for another royal wedding on the eve of the Second World War.
The wedding was held on the 27th of April, 1938, in Tirana. Hungarian noblemen assisted the ceremony and many royal courts of Europe sent delegates. Among others, Galeazzo Ciano Italian Foreign Minister was sent there by the leader of Italy, the Duce, Benito Mussolini. The special diamond tiara manufactured for the occasion can be seen on contemporary news reports and photos. White roses decorated the tiara, this is how the queen got her name. In spite of the cultural differences, Geraldine was able to fit in the Albanian royal court. As she put it, she wanted to become for Albanians who Queen Elisabeth, Sissy, was for the Hungarians.
In the end, Geraldine Apponyi could not spend a lot of time in Albania, because Italy attacked the country in 1939. By this time her first child, Leka was born.
The three of them were forced to leave Albania three days after the start of the Italian occupation, on the 8th of April in 1939.
First they escaped to Greece, then moved on to Turkey.
During the war, the family lived in France, then in England, in the Ritz Hotel, and could not return to Albania, which was declared People’s Socialist Republic of Albania after the war. Between 1946 and 1955 Zogu, Geraldine, and Leka settled in Alexandria, on the invitation of the Egyptian king, Faruk I. In 1955 they moved to Paris, where they lived until Zogu’s death in 1961. After the sad incident Albanians referred to Geraldine as ‘Queen Mother’. She moved to Madrid and her son regarded himself as the king of Albania, but they could not return to the communist empire of Enver Hoxha, who kept aloof from everything and everyone. Their next stop was South Africa in 1979, where Leka established a trading house.
Geraldine, Leka and his wife, and Geraldine’s grandson, who was also called Leka, were able to return to Albania in the summer of 2002, after a change in the law. The old queen still regarded her son as the legal heir to the throne. Geraldine had a lung disease; according to the doctors, it was just because of her moving to Tirana. She passed away in the same year, on the 22th of October, at the age of 87. In the previous five months she had three heart attacks, the last of which was fatal. She was buried four days later in a communal churchyard – later she was re-buried to the royal mausoleum of Tirana.
In 2015, in Appony, a plaque was dedicated for her. Skender Zogu, the king’s nephew whom Geraldine met during the years spent in exile also took part in this ceremony, and said in his speech that he knew Geraldine as a helpful and good-hearted person, who kept her Catholic faith until her death. Her marriage became only possible with the Pope’s permission. She always turned towards people with love – Skender Zogu said. Leka II got married last year, as we have also reported.
“She lived in Albania for one year, but our nation remembers her till this day, we can thank her many things.” This was said by the Albanian ambassador in Budapest, Arian Spasse, in October in the Hungarian National Museum. In the institute, an exhibition was opened about the Queen who died 15 years ago. The timing is interesting especially since Albania became independent 105 years ago, and the Albanian-Hungarian diplomatic relations can be dated back to 95 years ago. On the exhibition, you can find contemporary news reports and photos of the wedding, and three objects as well, but it is worth seeing it anyway. The exhibition can be visited until the 7th of January in 2018.
Featured image: Wiki Commons By I panjohur