Imagine there was once a king from a small, exotic European nation that went by a strange name. The only thing stranger than the nation’s name was that of the king’s. This king had risen from tribal leader to politician and then to the most powerful person in a newly born nation. He was crafty, intelligent and utterly corrupt. His country was desperately poor. It lacked the infrastructure and institutions in which of a modern state. It was beset by feuding, capricious violence and poverty. By the mid-1930’s, the King was in his early forties, a bachelor who was looking to marry. He wanted a woman with an aristocratic background and lots of money. There were plenty of aristocratic women to choose from in interwar Europe. The aristocracy had taken quite a fall since the end of World War I. The King also needed a woman with money because of his spendthrift ways and addictive habits. He sent his sisters to Vienna and Budapest in search of a suitable match for him.
They would send him a photo of a beautiful lady taken at a dinner in Budapest. One of his sisters then invited this woman to visit the exotic nation. The woman who would be queen was elegant, attractive and came from an aristocratic background, but she was far from wealthy. Her family’s fortune had all but vanished. A meeting was arranged between the two. It was not exactly love at first sight. The King was twenty years older than the Queen and looked every bit of it. Despite each ones less than desirable characteristics, they wed not long after that first meeting and would stay together for the rest of the king’s tempestuous life. The modern fairy tale told in the preceding paragraph is the story of the first King and Queen of Albania. If the story sounds unbelievable, than it just go to proves that truth really is stranger than fiction. The woman who became queen could certainly vouch for that.
From Countess To Queen – The Riches Of Royalty
Countess Geraldine Margit Virginia Olga Maria Apponyi de Nagy-Appony or as she was later known, Queen Geraldine of Albania, was born in Budapest during the First World War. She was the daughter of a well-connected Hungarian aristocrat, while her American mother was an heiress whose father was a leading diplomat. Countess Geraldine spent her childhood in such glamorous locales as Switzerland, the south of France, the Wienerwald in Austria and a family chateau in Czechoslovakia. It all sounds glamorous and by all accounts her childhood was a happy one, but her life was less than the stuff dreams are made of. Her father had died when she was only nine years old. After her mother remarried, Geraldine and her sisters were packed off to a boarding school in Austria. By the time she entered adulthood, her family fortune was exhausted. The Countess took up employment as a short hand typist. Her uncle, who was director of the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, helped her procure a second job as a clerk in the museum’s gift shop selling postcards.
Geraldine ended up abandoning her two jobs to marry a man who had survived innumerable assassination attempts, pulled all-nighters at the poker table and smoked 150 cigarettes a day. Not exactly a great catch for a woman, but at least he was a king. She was also feted with outrageous sums of money. The vice-president gave her a velvet pocketbook with the equivalent of half a million dollars in it. She donated it to an Albanian charity. The couples’ wedding was a memorable occasion. The most important dignitary in attendance was the personal envoy of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was said to be furious with Zog’s choice of Geraldine as his bride. He would have preferred that Zog marry an Italian, as Mussolini planned to incorporate Albania into his vision of a greater Italy. Another vile dictator also left his mark on the wedding. The couple drove to their honeymoon in a red Mercedes gifted to them by Adolf Hitler. It must have been quite the ride because Albania’s roads were in deplorable condition.
Stateless – A King & Queen Without A Country
During the 354 days of her reign spent in Albania, Queen Geraldine was given the royal treatment by King Zog. He expended a fortune to ensure that she was provided with every luxury. Much of the money Zog was wasting had been given to Albania by Italy. This was done to curry favor with the king. Mussolini hoped to use this small, primitive nation on the eastern side of the Adriatic as a stepping stone to eventually occupy Greece. Unfortunately for the Italians, Zog displayed ingratitude on a scale rarely seen before or since. He wanted their money for one reason only, to spend it as he saw fit. Italian advisers were crawling all over the Albanian government, trying to bring a sense of order and professionalism to it. Some of the funds went for infrastructure upgrades, but much of it was wasted on the King’s whims or for jewels, furs and other material items for the Queen. The Italians grew increasingly fed up with Zog’s behavior.
Just a week and a half after Geraldine had given birth to an heir, Crown Prince Leka, the royal couple fled the country. An Italian invasion made Albania a vassal state of Mussolini’s Italy. Some observers questioned why Zog had been hell bent on alienating the Italians. If his behavior had been a bit better he could likely have continued ruling the country under Italian occupation, but not as his personal fief. The king was too corrupt and cunning for the Italians to tell him what to do. Zog probably believed that the Italians would have had him murdered if he stayed in Albania. He was extremely paranoid and for good reason, Zog survived 55 assassination attempts in his life – a world record for a modern leader. There was no compelling reason for Zog to test his luck once again. Plus, Zog believed he had secreted away enough money in accounts outside of the country to allow the royal couple to live a wealthy existence for years to come. Thus, King Zog and Queen Geraldine went into exile. The King was to never see his homeland again.