History

The White Rose and the king of Albania

Published: 30. 9. 2022
Author: Silvia Mária Petrovitsová
Photo: Photo Albanian Royal Family a/and Fortepan.hu - Wikimedia Commons
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Many of us still remember the fairytale weddings of the British royal family. When countess Geraldine Apponyi attended New Year's Eve celebrations in Tirana at the invitation of King Zog I, there was a spark between the two of them. The attending guests were privy to a confession of feelings towards the beautiful lady, which the King topped off with a marriage proposal. And the lady accepted. What was the royal wedding of Geraldine, the White Rose of Appony, and Zog I like?

Geraldine, the wife of the Albanian king, is not known by many. She was dubbed the White Rose thanks to her beauty and naturally white complexion. During her studies, she excelled at stenography, sociology, history, and literature and also received musical training, which was the standard for a noble-born young lady. She was fluent in Albanian, French, German, Spanish, English, and Hungarian. Besides being charming, elegant, and attractive, she was also a very talented singer. In fall of 1937 in Budapest, when she starred as Mimi in Puccini's opera La Bohème, photographs of her with headlines calling her the “White Rose of Appony“ appeared all over the newspapers. One such publication made its way to the hands of the King of Albania, Ahmed Zog I, and he was smitten by the Hungarian beauty.

Grand wedding day

Geraldine married King Zog I on April 27, 1938, in Tirana. The date carried symbolic meaning, as it was the wedding anniversary of the national hero Skanderbeg and Donika Arianiti-Muzaka. The marriage had the blessing of all four of the country's official religious leaders. The public ceremony, held in the grand hall of the royal palace, was a melding of western and oriental influence. It was accompanied by cries of joy from the gathered crowds and the tolling of bells. The King chose Count Galeazzo Ciano and his own Turkish brother-in-law, Mehmed Abid, as his groomsmen. The Queen's bridal party was formed by Count Karol Apponyi and Baron Frederik Villány. More than 70 foreign journalists and photographers attended the ceremony, including the media from countries such as South Africa, Japan, and Argentina. There were many Hungarian noble families present: Esterházy, Festetich, Apponyi, Károlyi, Szapáry, Berchtold, and Edelsheim. The Italian royal family was represented by Prince Adalberto of Savoy, Duke of Bergamo. Princesses Borghese and Radziwill were also present, as were earls Seherr-Thoss and Trautenberg, and many more representatives of central European aristocracy. The Albanian government covered the expenses of 100 weddings that took place on the same day. And the royal family sponsored another 50 wedding ceremonies throughout the country.

Pretend gift from Mussolini

The newlyweds received plenty of intriguing gifts, from today's perspective at least. The Hungarian Regent, Horthy, sent them a set of Hungarian porcelain for 48 people. Baron Villány, Hungarian Ambassador to Rome, gifted the couple two pure-blooded Lipizzan horses along with a trainer. Hitler presented them with a Mercedes-Benz 540K, which they later, funnily enough, used to escape Albania. The Turkish government gifted them ninety-four oriental rugs, French President Lebrun a white porcelain table made in Sèvres. Mussolini's gift was no gift at all, in the end. He promised an extravagant one indeed, a yacht, which was yet to be built. It is not known whether they ever received it at all, seeing as they had to leave Albania in spring of 1939 shortly after the birth of their son Leka, due to Mussolini's lust for expansion. Life in exile was a fairytale no longer.

Biographies and a medal

During the 345 days of her rule, Geraldine supported the construction of hospitals, shelters, and orphanages. She also took part in directing the military hospital in Tirana. Geraldine was responsible for establishing the first maternal hospital and she was a proponent of female rights and emancipation. Many publications, including biographical ones, were inspired by her extraordinary life story. In 1987, an authorized biography of Geraldine was published, written by Gwen Robyns, and later another one by Josephine Dedet. Both these books are a trustworthy source of information about the fate of this exceptional woman. She returned to Albania in 2002 as its beloved queen, passing away there in October that year. In April 2004, the Albanian president awarded her the Medal of Mother Theresa of Calcutta in memoriam.

The Albanian Sissi

When Crown Princess Elia, the wife of Geraldine's grandson, Leka II, started a foundation in 2014, she called it the Queen Geraldine Foundation. The foundation is active in a variety of fields. It supports projects aiming to protect the environment, fight poverty, safeguard traditional Albanian culture, modernize the school system, as well as educational programs.

Home in Slovakia

Geraldine never forgot Slovakia or Appony (Oponice in Slovak). In one of her letters, she wrote, “I lost touch with my ancestral home, where I also spent some time learning your language. I remember our village and I have plenty of memories of the wonderful library there. I adore the image of your land, its calm forests, lakes, rivers. That is what remains in me from my time there, it is one of the places I loved very dearly...” She last saw Appony in 1938. Chateau Appony is where the Apponyi family hosted a great many interesting people. Such as Theodore Roosevelt and his brothers, American billionaire, Thomas Cordeza, who sailed on the Titanic with his mother, or the Indian maharaja. The chateau's billiards table is where Josephine Baker, Hemingway's and Picasso's muse, danced one time.

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