Of all the European royal mail order brides bought and paid for at the altar in the 1930s, none was subjected to a more psychologically twisted marriage than Queen Geraldine of Albania, née Countess Apponyi de Nagy Apponyi. An attractive, 20 something, impoverished half American, half Hungarian aristocrat with a sunny disposition, she was working as a typist in Budapest when, in 1937, Albania’s King Zog, after having seen her photo, invited her to a New Year’s ball at his palace. He proposed to her several days later. One could liken Geraldine’s story to that of a modern day Cinderella, albeit one in which the Prince Charming character is a decades older Eastern European political gangster turned self proclaimed ruler of a tinpot kingdom widely acknowledged as the poorest, most backward of its kind in Europe. Nonetheless, she accepted his proposal, and they were married in a resplendent wedding ceremony the following April.
Queen Geraldine soon found herself pregnant, and had literally just given birth to the crown prince, Leka, when her husband’s fascist Italian neighbors and allies, who were in reality his political sponsors and overlords, invaded Zog’s kingdom and annexed it. Despite escaping the country with her days old son in an ambulance, Geraldine’s departure and exile was no doubt eased by her husband having stolen his country’s entire gold reserves just prior to their departure. After living at the Ritz Hotel in London, then renting an estate in the English countryside, they settled at a palace provided for them in Alexandria, Egypt by King Farouk, who was of distant Albanian origin, and remained comfortably ensconced there until 1952 when their host was himself overthrown. The royal Zogs could’ve remained in Egypt had the former king been willing to pay income taxes, but feeling such an act was beneath him, he and his family soon hightailed it to Paris where he died in 1961.
With her son being immediately declared King Leka l upon his father’s death by the royalist government in exile, which wasn’t an empty honorific given more Albanians were living abroad than in their country at that time, Queen Geraldine moved with her son and his eventual family to Spain, where they were guests of King Juan Carlos l until it was discovered Leka was hoarding a private arsenal in his apartment, then to Rhodesia until the white minority government fell, then to South Africa where they were honored guests of the Apartheid regime. Throughout these peripatetic years, Queen Geraldine, who remained graceful into old age, kept the flame of Albanian royalism burning bright, and was finally invited back to her adoptive country in 2002. She died there 6 months later. Leka, his wife and son also returned, and today Geraldine’s only grandson, Crown Prince Leka, is a rising star within Albania’s diplomatic corps. He also recently married a lovely actress in Albania’s first pseudo royal wedding ceremony since his grandparents’ nuptials in 1938.
That is the official chronicle of Geraldine’s dramatic tenure as King Zog’s consort, and would, no doubt, have remained all the world knew about her marriage had several Central Intelligence Agency documents concerning Zog and Geraldine’s household compiled between 1949 and 1953 not been declassified in 2007 as part of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. As chronicled in Albert Lulushi’s landmark 2014 book, Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA’s First Paramilitary Strike, it was at this time that the British and U.S. governments attempted a series of small scale guerrilla invasions of Albania in an attempt to dislodge it from the Soviet Block. Both governments solicited the help of King Zog and his extensive network of anti-communist Albanian dissidents. In New York, the CIA established contact with Zog’s American attorney, who handled all his U.S. affairs, a man named Edward Church. Church was also a legal relation of the king’s, given his mother-in-law, Countess von Scherr-Thoss, was Geraldine’s aunt who’d acted as her foster mother when it was agreed, upon the death of her father and her mother’s remarriage in France, that Geraldine and her siblings should return to Hungary to be raised by their paternal relatives. What Church reveals in his top secret CIA interview, dated September 18, 1949, he was in a uniquely privileged position to provide .
His first revelation concerning his cousin-in-law’s royal marriage is that it was arranged by his wife’s mother. By the late ’30s King Zog was desperate to marry and produce an heir with either a princess or an aristocrat on the continent. Being a nouveau riche king presiding over Europe’s only predominantly Muslim country, his marital overtures were generally laughed off by his prospective royal brides. Geoffrey Bocca relates the tale in Kings Without Thrones, in which Zog attempted to woe Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, sole child of King Alexander l of Greece, by first sending her several crates of her favorite oranges. Needless to write, Her Royal Highness dismissed his efforts outright. Zog was therefore especially grateful to Countess von Scherr-Thoss for setting up his nuptials to her glamorous, aristocratic niece, and was happy to employ her Yale grad son-in-law to oversee his North American business affairs.
Church next reveals the king is “chomping at the bit” to return to his former realm, and even willing to subject himself to a plebiscite determining whether or not to restore the monarchy if necessary. Subsequent CIA documents, including a detailed analysis of his political career, reveal such sentiment to be a likely ruse on Zog’s part to pacify his more democratically inclined American backers. Once back in Albania, he’d likely rig the plebiscite to ensure the restoration of his throne. Edward Church then asserts the only stumbling block to King Zog’s recruitment is his sister, called “Zenaida” in the report, but who in fact was his favorite sibling, Princess Senije Zogu. Described as a “moronic woman” who obviously doesn’t trust the Americans, her influence over her brother was especially strong given they were carrying on an incestuous affair at the time. Not only was Geraldine aware of this, but upon her cousin-in-law’s last visit to Alexandria she’d discussed this openly with him, showed him Senije’s bedroom, which was adjacent to Zog’s suite, whereas Geraldine’s bedroom was in another part of the palace, and had laughed the situation off. Church then asserts she’s utterly in love with and devoted to her husband, despite him cheating on her with his sister, and is grateful for the times when Zog’s harem of female siblings are away and she has her “beloved king” all to herself.
King Zog had six sisters in all. Nicknamed “the ugly Zoglets” by the European tabloid press, they were as notorious for their overly dolled up, theatrical and cheaply glamorous appearance, as they were privately held in general disregard for their vulgarity. From snubbing Archduke Otto von Habsburg after he’d saluted them in the lobby of a Swiss hotel, to discussing the presumed sexual prowess of a male American journalist in front of him in their native tongue, which unbeknownst to them he could understand, while he awaited interviewing their brother when they’d first arrived in Egypt, tales of their manifold faux pas are legion. Princess Senije, who was briefly married to an Ottoman prince, had acted as her brother’s de facto consort prior to his marriage, and it’s now clear serviced her brother in other ways as well. It’s unknown when their affair began, but it’s now commonly presumed to have commenced long before Geraldine made her way into their disgusting ménage, and, given that Senije was part of Zog’s household until the day he died, it’s doubtful it ever ended.
Church then goes onto mention the presence of a half Italian, half Albanian man within King Zog’s court-in-exile named Count Alexander de Villa. Described as Zog’s “black market operator” and a drug smuggler who “ran dope” to France while his father was Albanian ambassador to that country, Edward also states he recently heard the count had been assigned by Zog with the task of seducing Geraldine and keeping her happy while the king carried on his affair with his favorite sibling. Church, however, doubts this story, as he believes his cousin is quite “under sexed” and her devotion to the king is such that Edward doubts she’d cheat on him, even if it was Zog’s wish for her to do so.
While only hinted at in the report, part of Queen Geraldine’s loyalty to her quasi royal spouse was undoubtedly based on the gratitude she felt toward him for rescuing her from a life of genteel poverty. One need only take a look at the jewels he swathed her in upon marriage to surmise that, whatever misery she endured at Zog l’s hands, it was a misery suffered in luxurious circumstances. Furthermore, Geraldine’s cousin in law states in his interview that the king was sending a monthly stipend to his wife’s elderly, maternal grandmother back in the United States, that she was most assuredly dependent upon. Leaving him, had the thought ever crossed Geraldine’s mind, would’ve financially devastated at least one member of her family, and possibly more.
Of course, Geraldine didn’t leave Zog, and American and British efforts to restore him to his throne, lukewarm as they were, came to nothing. As a final anecdote to this bizarre tale, one of the author’s friends and former colleagues happens to be an Albanian aristocrat whose father in law has close ties to the former royal court. One day over lunch, when discussing Zog l, and why he chose to marry a foreigner, she mentioned that he felt obliged not to marry an Albanian woman because he regarded his female subjects as his sisters! In light of these recently declassified CIA reports, one can only marvel at the laughably vile hypocrisy of a monarch who gleefully f****d one of his biological sisters behind closed doors throughout the latter half of his life, yet regarded marriage to one among his fellow countrywomen an act of cultural incest beneath his dignity. Curiouser and curiouser!!!!!