The Albanian Royal Wedding of 1938

On 27 April 1938, King Zog I of the Albanians (né Amet Bej Zogu) married Countess Geraldine Margit Virginia Olga Mária Apponyi de Nagy-Appony in a grand ceremony at Tirana. The forty-two year-old groom was born on 8 October 1895 at Burgajet as the son of Xhemal Pasha Zogu (~1860-1911) and his second wife Sadijé Toptani Khanum (1876-1934; titled “Queen Mother of the Albanians” during her son’s reign). The twenty-two year-old bride was born at Budapest as the daughter of Count Gyula Apponyi de Nagy-Appony (1873-1924) and his wife Gladys Virginia Steuart (1891–1947; married secondly to Gontran Girault). The union of the Albanian king and Hungarian countess brought an infusion of blue blood into the nascent royal family: Albania had only become a kingdom on 1 September 1928 when the then-President Amet Bej Zogu was proclaimed monarch as Zog I.

Due to their religious faiths, Zog being Muslim and Geraldine being Roman Catholic, the couple settled on a civil marriage. The wedding of the king and queen was recounted in detail by Gwen Robyns, the author of Geraldine of the Albanians – The Authorised Biography:

On the morning of the wedding Princess Geraldine woke at six o’clock despite the fact that she had not gone to bed until late and been given a sedative to make her sleep. Soon everyone was awake at the villa and emotions ran high as – typically Hungarian – first the grandmother, and then her mother and aunts, began to cry. 

Geraldine was astonishingly calm as she put on the pearl and diamanté embroidered wedding dress from Worth that had been selected for her. Again she had not been consulted, but the King’s taste was so sensitive that its elegant lines flowed over her willowy figure.  

It was Madame Girault’s romantic wish that she place the wedding veil on her daughter’s head and then from a hidden box she disclosed the white gold chain with diamond cross that Geraldine had admired with the King. It was another touch of finesse that made this man so different. At the time it was reported that the bride was taller than the King, but this was merely the height of her coronet of orange blossom, an insignificant fact that still piques her to this day. 

As the wedding was to be a civil one only, it was held in the flower-decked hall of the palace. Followed by her six bridesmaids, all in white, Princess Geraldine entered the room to join the King who looked most impressive in his white uniform, his rows of decorations and his sabre. As Princess Geraldine took his arm the King placed on the fourth finger of her right hand a huge blue fourteen carat solitaire diamond ring to match the blue white one he had given her as an engagement ring. 

The King’s witnesses were Count Ciano and Zog’s Turkish brother-in-law, Prince Abid, the Albanian Minister to France. Representing the Queen was Count Charles Apponyi, her guardian and uncle, and Baron Frederick Vilany, Hungarian Minister to Italy. Her train was carried by the King’s nephew, Tati. Helqmet Delvina, the white-bearded president of the two Houses of Parliament united the couple by reading from the civil code… 

The service lasted three minutes. The king then placed her trembling hand on his arm and led his bride to the balcony to greet the thousands milling in Skanderbeg Square. Again and again they returned to wave to the people who were overjoyed to see their monarch so relaxed and fulfilled. It seemed that a while new era of prosperity was dawning for this nation which had known only turbulence in the past. After this the King led her into the wedding reception, followed by her line of fluttering bridesmaids, the close family and the Court behind. They moved from salon to salon shaking hands and greeting guests. All the Queen remembers today of this part of her wedding was a sea of faces, so many loving faces, and the strange dream-like feeling of receiving reverences from her family… 

Queen Geraldine cut the three metre wide wedding cake with the King’s sabre and her beloved brother Gyula, just fourteen years of age, made a speech. With the permission of the King, the Apponyi family had arranged to bring to Tirana one of the most famous gypsy orchestras from Budapest to play at the reception. They played Geraldine’s favourite tunes until, to the horror of the King, his bride began to cry.

Antoinette de Szinyei-Merse, Geraldine’s eventual lady-in-waiting and childhood friend, recalled in her 1940 book Ten Years, Ten Months, Ten Days the various guests who came from abroad to witness the wedding of the King of the Albanians and the Countess Apponyi: “From Hungary, the Duke and Counts Esterházy and Festetich, the Apponyis, Károlyis, Szapárys, Berchtolds, and Edelsheim, the baronial Inkeys and Urbáns. From other countries the Princesses Borghese and Radziwill, the Counts Seeherr-Thoss and Trautenberg, and a great many representatives of Central European aristocracy.” The Italian royal family was represented by the Duke of Bergamo.

King Zog and Queen Geraldine on their wedding day

The newlyweds received a treasure-trove of wedding gifts. Admiral Horthy, Regent of Hungary, sent Geraldine a set of china for forty-eight persons that was created by the Herend factory. Baron Villány, the Hungarian Ambassador to Rome, gave the couple a coach complete with Hungarian harness and two silver pure-bred horses from the Hungarian State stud – a coachman was also included: he was to remain on as a part of Geraldine’s staff. The German Führer sent the couple a scarlet Mercedes-Benz 540K; ironically, this gift would come in handy when the king and queen and their newborn son had to flee Albania in the vehicle in 1939 after the Italian invasion. The Turkish government sent twenty-four Oriental carpets. President Lebrun of France contributed a white Sèvres porcelain table-piece. Prime Minister Mussolini of Italy promised the king and queen the extravagant gift of a yacht (which had not been constructed in time for the royal nuptials). Lastly, King Zog gave his wife a plethora of jewellery: bracelets, diadems, necklaces, pearls, and solitaire diamonds.

The King and Queen of the Albanians

On 5 April 1939, the King and Queen welcomed the birth of their only child Crown Prince Leka, who was born at the Royal Palace in Tirana. Two days later on Good Friday, 7 April, Italian troops invaded the Kingdom of Albania: Zog and Geraldine dashed into exile with their son. The family first relocated to France, then to England, and then to Egypt, and finally to France. [After King Zog’s death, Queen Geraldine and her son Leka and his family moved to Spain, then to South Africa, and then returned to Albania in 2002.]

Statue of King Zog in Tirana
Aged sixty-five, King Zog died at Paris on 9 April 1961. Zog and Geraldine had been married for twenty-three years. After the royal family was able to return to Albania, Queen Geraldine died at Tirana at the great age of eighty-seven, having lived through an unspeakable amount of unfortunate events. The king and queen rest in repose at the Royal Mausoleum in Tirana. 
Geraldine of Albania at the 1975 marriage of her son King Leka I to Queen Susan (née Cullen-Ward)

Crown Prince Leka (II) of the Albanians, King Zog and Queen Geraldine’s only grandchild, is the current Head of House Albania. Together with his wife, Crown Princess Elia, the couple are dedicated to promoting the welfare of the people of their country. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess reside in Tirana at the Royal Court. 

The wedding of Crown Prince Leka and Crown Princess Elia of the Albanians
Photograph (c) Seth B. Leonard

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