The idea of putting Prince William of Wied on the Throne of Albania originated in the romantic but not very practical mind of his aunt. Queen Elizabeth of Roumania, better known as Carmen Sylva. Prince William, a fine figure of a young Prussian Major, with a kind heart, a soft voice and a broad smile, was the poet-Queen's favourite nephew: she arranged a marriage between him and one of her protegees, the talented Princess Sophie of Schönburg-Waldenburg, who painted, sang and played the harp. Carmen Sylva had big ambitions for the young couple, nothing less than a Throne: and so, when Albania finally became independent of Turkey at the end of the Balkan Wars in 1913, it seemed just the thing for them. It would also, she thought, be so nice having dear William and dear Sophie living near her in the Balkans. In fact, the Queen's attitude was similar to that of those well-meaning ladies who dragoon their friends into buying undesirable houses in their neighbourhood.
She set about persuading her husband, King Carol, that it would be a good idea if William could become the ruler of the newly-independent Albanian State. The hard-headed, down-to-earth old King was not so sure: he is alleged to have said to William, who asked him how he felt about it, "There's not much of a chance but you can only die once". Nevertheless, he took up the matter of William's candidature with the Governments in Vienna, Paris and Rome, and the response was favourable. Candidates for the Throne of the most primitive and poverty-stricken country in Europe-a country of robbers and fierce blood-feuds, where there were no railways and few roads and where the largest town was no bigger than a straggling village-had not been exactly plentiful: one hears of its having been offerred to, and turned down by, various prominent Englishmen of the day; and although many of these legends may be untrue, the fact that they arose slows how the Albanian Throne was regarded at the time. So Prince William of Wied's name was put forward to the Albanians, who duly elected him as Mbret; the only word in the Albanian language for a ruler, which, in his case, was rendered as Prince. His wife, being a romantic, was thrilled: but he himself was not so enthusiastic. And in the Courts and Chancelleries of Europe, people were unkindly calling him "Le Prince de vide".
William and Sophie set out on their hazardous adventure in the early spring of 1914. They established themselves at Durazzo, half way up the coast, which had been the headquarters of Essad Pasha, an Albanian-born Turkish soldier who had governed the country before the Prince's arrival. Immediately, the unfortunate William found himself in a maze of trouble and intrigue: there were insurrections and other disturbances. The powerful Essad, who had been more responsible than anybody else in Albania for putting William on the Throne, soon proved a menace; so that in May, the Prince had him arrested, at the same time as a force of Austrian and Italian sailors were landed at Durazzo to restore order. So confused was the situation that one German newspaper remarked that it was by no means certain whether the latest developments arose from a plot of Essad against the Prince or a plot of the Prince against Essad; while the German Consul-General in Budapest reported that he had seen the Albanian Prime Minister, Turkhan Pasha, who had told him that he was going to Vienna to attend a dinner, but that his subsequent movements were uncertain as he was not quite sure whether he was still Prime Minister of Albania or not. The British Ambassador in Berlin, speaking about Albania to the German Foreign Minister, Jagow, said that he "was sorry for the poor Prince", to which Jagow retorted, "Yes, but why the devil did he go there?" In fact, the German Government were embarrassed by the presence of a German Prince in Albania, as they wished to have nothing to do with Albanian affairs; and they lived in perpetual dread lest they should have to intervene to rescue the Prince and Princess if their lives were in danger.
For some months, William struggled on; while Sophie, who had completely fallen in love with Albania and the Albanians, wrote enthusiastic letters to Carmen Sylva, telling her of all that she was doing. But the outbreak of the Great War made the Prince's position untenable; for the subsidies which France and Italy had promised him could not now be paid. Early in September 1914, he felt he could carry on no longer; and he and Sophie left the country. Such was the confusion of their departure that they lost all their personal possessions, even Sophie's beloved harp.
William of Wied did not go back to Albania, though he never renounced his right to the Throne; and for the next decade the government of the country was in theory a Regency, pending his return, Essad took over again following William's departure; and after the War, the so-called National Assembly proclaimed him King; but before he could establish himself on the Throne, he was assassinated by an Albanian in Paris.