Making a Monarch: How a Stuttering King Found His Voice

a child undergoing speech therapyIn 2010, The King’s Speech earned more than $130 million in the cinemas. Audiences loved the story of George VI of the United Kingdom, the country’s World War II monarch. Despite its setting, however, the movie focused on a more personal matter: How the modern monarch overcame his speech impediment and, in doing so, used his voice to rally his people in wartime.

Putnam County Hospital says that speech defects not only affect how others understand a person but also affect one’s self-confidence. George VI’s condition was even more critical because he was a public figure in a time of great difficulty. So, he searched high and low for a cure. In the end, not only did he improve his speech and gain self-confidence, but he found a lifelong friend, too.

Modern Marvels that Showed the King’s Weakness

With modernity came live broadcasts. As the Industrial-Prince-turned-King, it was expected that George VI take advantage of this to reach out to his people. It would have been a brilliant move, had it not also magnified his weakness. During those days, people thought stammering was a sign of mental weakness.

To hear the British monarch speak so disastrously could have disheartened people and cost them the war effort, so George VI resorted to many things to try and treat it. Experts advised him to chain-smoke. They also told him to fill his mouth with marbles or pebbles. The king followed their recommendations in vain.

An Unconventional Therapist for the Royal Patient

Several speech therapists later, George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, met Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist in London. Logue had an unconventional approach to treatment, calling him “Bertie” (a nickname reserved for his family and close friends) and insisting that he conduct the sessions in his clinic instead of the palace. At first, these sessions made George VI — who was then still a Duke —  uncomfortable, but like his speech impediment the uneasiness did not last long.

Logue’s Techniques and Legacy

Logue taught Bertie to connect words in groups, desensitized him to fear of public speaking, and used loud music to distract him from his learned patterns of stuttering. He also taught the king to sing the words when he had trouble speaking them. Eventually, he helped him reduce his stammering and boosted his confidence. Because of their effectiveness, some of these techniques are still used in therapy today.

Lionel eventually became not only his therapist but a trusted friend, too. He was by his side during the most important speech of his life, which was the declaration of war on September 3, 1939. His newfound confidence helped him become a conscientious and dedicated sovereign, restoring the people’s trust in the British monarchy.