Archive for February, 2009

23 Feb

Gladys Virginia Steuart, born 18 July 1891, died 19 November 1947, was a daughter of John Henry Steuart (1831 – 1892), U. S. Consul at Antwerp, and Mary Virginia Ramsay Harding Steuart (1891 – 1947, later Mrs. de Strale d’Ekna), whose father was a Virginia millionaire. Gladys met in at the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in Paris in 1912 and married at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Geneva 29 July 1914, Count Gyula/Julius Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi (1873 – 1924), son of Count Ludwig Apponyi, Grand Marshal of the Court of His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Hungary. Gladys’ sisters, Muriel and Fanny, married respectively Count Seherr Thoss and Count Laszlo Karolyi.

Gladys and Gyula Apponyis’ daughter, Countess Geraldine Apponyi, was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 6 August 1915. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, the family fled to Switzerland but returned to Hungary in 1921. At the death of Count Apponyi on 27 May 1924, his widow took her three daughters, Geraldine, Virginia (who later married Count de Baghy de Szechen), and Gyula, to live live near her widowed mother in Menton in the south of France. There Gladys married a French Army officer, Gontrand Girault, by whom she had more children, Guy, Sylviane, and Patricia Girault. Her Apponyi in-laws insisted that her children by the first marriage be returned to Hungary where they were enrolled at the Sacred Heart boarding school in Pressbaum near Vienna.

The young and beautiful Geraldine’s grandfather’s fortune had been depleted and she accepted work as a shorthand typist. She then sold postcards at the Budapest National Museum where one of her uncles was director. A photo of the then-17 year-old Geraldine, taken while leaving a ball at the Karolyi Palace in Budapest, was given several years later to a sister of King Zog of the Albanians who introduced the young woman to the King in December of 1937. He asked for her hand almost immediately and Geraldine, who became known as the “White Rose of Hungary,” was raised to royal status as Princess Geraldine of Albania.

On April 27, 1938, in Tirana, Albania, Geraldine married the King, who was 20 years her senior, in a civil ceremony witnessed by Count Ciano, Mussolini’s envoy. She was Roman Catholic and he was Muslim and promised to build for her a Catholic chapel in their royal palace. King Zog I, Skanderbeg III of Albania (born Ahmet Zogolli, his name was later changed to Ahmet Zogu, born 8 October 1895), was King of Albania from 1928 to 1939. He was previously Prime Minister of Albania between 1922 and 1924 and President of Albania between 1925 and 1928. At 22, Geraldine was the second-youngest Queen in the world (after Egypt’s Queen Farida). The couple drove to their honeymoon in a scarlet open-top, Mercedes Benz, which was a present from Adolf Hitler (Hungary’s Regent Horthy sent a phaeton and four Lipizzaner stallions). Geraldine’s marriage made her mother, Gladys, the first American-born mother of a queen.

Geraldine’s only child, her son, Leka I, was born at the Royal Palace in Tirana, Albania, on 5 April 1939. Although Geraldine retained her Catholic faith, her son was Muslim and a godson of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. King Zog’s rule was cut short with the invasion of Albania by fascist Italy in April 1939 and the family fled the country into exile only two days after the birth of their son. The puppet government passed the throne to Italy’s King Victor Emanuel III.

From 1946, Geraldine and Zog lived in Greece, Turkey, England, Egypt (where they lived until King Farouk was toppled in 1952), the United States (at Knollwood, their estate on Long Island), France, Rhodesia, Spain, and finally South Africa. Their son, Leka I, is the current claimant to the Albanian throne. When he married an Australian, Susan Cullen-Ward (1941 – 2004), Queen Elizabeth II sent a telegram of congratulations. They have a son, Crown Prince Leka, who was born in South Africa in 1982 (his maternity ward was supposedly declared temporary Albanian territory for one hour so that he would be born in Albania).

King Zog died in Hauts-de-Seine, France on 9 April 1961. It was said that he had survived 55 assassination attempts. Queen Geraldine, the first half-American queen, died in Albania on 22 October 2002, where she had been invited to return by 40 members of Parliament that same year. Their son’s activities have ensured that he will never assume his father’s throne. For years he was an arms dealer (sometimes referred to as “Rambo of the Balkans”) for which he was arrested in Thailand. In 1999 he was arrested in South Africa and his diplomatic privileges revoked when police found more than 70 weapons with 14,000 rounds of ammunition in his home. When his airplane landed in Gabon for refueling, troops who had been hired by the Albanian government to arrest him surrounded the plane. He appeared in the door with a rocket launcher and his would-be attackers fled. He re-entered Albania for the first time in 1993, greeted by 500 supporters, under a passport issued by the Royal Court-in-exile. Although the government refused to acknowledge the passport (which listed his occupation as “King”) he was allowed to visit, declaring that he would renounce the passport if a referendum on the monarchy failed. Leka returned again in 1997 when 2,000 supporters greeted him and his weeping mother. The promised monarchy referendum was held and only 1/3 of voters favored its restoration (Leka made accusations of voter fraud but they were largely disproven). He organized an armed insurrection and was sentenced in absentia to three years imprisonment for sedition, a conviction that was pardoned in 2002 when he re-entered the country to live. That same year he attempted to bring almost 90 pieces of arms, including hand grenades and rocket launchers, into Albania. His son, the Crown Prince, now lives in Tirana.

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