Close your eyes and imagine you’re flying across oceans and meadows, rolling green hills, and winding roads to a peaceful kingdom, the country of England. It’s the early 1900’s and England is a beautiful island with grand palaces, sleepy little towns, a king and queen, and two young princes. One of these princes is named Bertie.
Bertie is very shy. He is small and skinny and has crooked knees. They are called “knock knees” because they knock together when he walks. Bertie wears metal braces on his legs to fix his knees. The braces are painful and squeaky and they pinch his skin. Not fun at all! Can you imagine walking around all day with metal rods tied to your legs? It is very hard to run or swim or play games!
Bertie has an older brother, Edward. Edward is very handsome and popular. Everyone admires Edward. Everyone does NOT admire Bertie.
Bertie wears braces…and he has a STUTTER – that means he can’t speak easily. He spits and mumbles and blurts out words. This is very embarrassing for a royal prince. Princes are supposed to talk – A LOT. Bertie can hardly talk at all! He tries to say words, but they stick in his throat and he starts to tremble and shake. He gets very red in the face. And then he squeezes his eyes shut and the words burst out all at once. Not very princely.
His older brother, Edward laughs at Bertie, which makes him mad and also very sad inside. Bertie blushes and clamps his mouth shut tight. The way Edward treats him makes him not want to talk at all.
Bertie’s parents, the king, and queen are busy ruling their kingdom and do not have time to spend with the princes. The king gets very mad at Bertie when he cannot speak. He yells at Bertie: “Just spit it out, boy!” Well, that just makes Bertie more scared and unhappy. How can he speak when someone is yelling at him?
Bertie sits in his bedroom every night waiting for his nanny to bring him dinner. But she is mean to him, too. She does not think he is good enough to be a prince. He wears leg braces and stutters. What kind of prince is that? So, when no one is looking, she does things like pinch Bertie and takes away his food. Bertie is very hungry and sad. Being a prince is not much fun.
Plus, he is stuck in a small room in the castle all day with Edward. They study for hours and have no friends. The days are long and boring. Bertie can’t wait to get outside to play in the fields or search for polliwogs. They are slimy and ugly – the best kind of fun!
When Bertie is a teenager, he is sent away to the Navy. He is very scared to leave the castle. How will he make friends? What will people think of his stutter? He is lucky that his leg braces have come off – that would have been very embarrassing to walk around a slippery ship like a stumbling stork!
Being in the Navy is hard. There are a lot of rules. There is a lot of pressure to be a great prince. One day, they go into battle! That is very scary, with loud guns booming and orders being shouted. But Bertie and his fellow sailors win the battle!
After the battle, Bertie joins the Royal Air Force and learns to fly airplanes! Now, THAT is fun! He loves to sail through the sky as free as a bird – no worries or pressures so high in the sky! He can be himself and relax in the clouds. But he always has to come back to earth.
His father, the king, is now old and sick. Edward and Bertie have to do things for the king – like travel around the kingdom and make speeches. Bertie really HATES making speeches. His stutter is terrible. People look at him and giggle. People are not supposed to giggle at princes!
Eventually, the king dies and Bertie’s older brother Edward is crowned King Edward VIII of England. Unfortunately, Edward is not a good king. He does not like to do kingly things like talking to people, reading long reports, or making tough decisions. So, instead, he goes to the horse races or drives off to other palaces. He meets a lady named Wallis. She isn’t a princess, she’s an American! An English prince cannot marry an American, especially one who isn’t a princess!!
Edward doesn’t care. He decides he does not want to be king anymore. He wants to marry Wallis and leave the kingdom. Can kings DO that? Well, no one has ever done it before. Edward tells Bertie he is leaving and he signs a letter stating he is giving up the throne. He hands back the crown, the royal ring, the robes!
That means Bertie has to be king! Bertie is terrified. He stutters. He is not ready to be king. He doesn’t know what to do. He will make a fool of himself and the people will not like him. But he has crowned King George VI anyway at the age of 41.
When Bertie is King something terrible happens: England is invaded during World War II! Enemy planes drop bombs on their cities! Enemy ships surrounded their country. What should Bertie do? How can he lead his people when he cannot speak?
Bertie and his wife, Elizabeth, find a speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Lionel works with Bertie on his stutter. They repeat rhymes and tongue twisters; they scream verses out windows. They recite poetry while blasting music. Bertie has a terrible time with p’s, and b’s, and c’s – they stick in his throat and he can’t make his tongue work right. But Lionel helps him a lot. And that’s a good thing because, as king, he has to talk – A LOT.
During the war, Bertie meets soldiers, families, and workers. He tells them they are doing a good job and their work is appreciated. He gives them comfort. His government gives them shelter, food, and medical care. The people are grateful and they like their new king. He does a much better job than King Edward, who was too busy playing all day to rule the kingdom. And King Edward abandoned them – he ran away from his country and left them alone. Not a good king at all.
The people realize that Bertie is brave and kind, humble, and courageous. Yes, he has a slight stutter, but what does that matter? He does not run away when times are tough or when there is danger. He gives them hope and courage. He does what is right. He is a GREAT king!
World War 2 lasts six years but Bertie works hard to keep his kingdom and his people safe. Then the war is finally over. They have won! The people are so happy! They yell “God save the king!’ and wave flags in front of the palace.
Bertie and Elizabeth wave from the palace in thanks! Their daughters – Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret – stand beside them.
Bertie continues to rule as king, but he is not feeling well. The war and the stress of being king have made him very sick. One night, he passes away in his sleep.
His daughter, Princess Elizabeth is then crowned queen and she continues to rule the kingdom of England to this day.
Bertie, who became King George IV, was an inspiration to so many people. He once wrote: “The highest of distinctions is service to others.” This means you should always try to help other people.
What do you think of Bertie? Do you think he was a good king? Do you think his stutter made him less of a king than Edward? If you were king or queen, what would you do to help others?
I think Bertie proved that no matter what struggles you face in life – knock knees, a stutter, or any other challenge – you can overcome them and become something great. Just because you are different, it does not mean you are less of a person or not as good as someone else. And he also taught us that you may not always get to do what you want in life. But he teaches us that whatever you do in life, do what is right and help other people. Make the world a better place because you are in it!
If you would like to learn more about Bertie, check out the picture book, “Bertie: The Best Stuttering King” for kids ages 7-12. It is set in rhyme with beautiful, color illustrations and I highly recommend it. A big thanks to Susan M. Webb for writing the script and be sure to check out her book which is now for sale on Amazon and TheBookPatch.com. Also check out her website at www.susanmwebb.com for more information, as well as games for kids, stuttering resources, and more royal history!