I have always speculated on the effect stuttering had for King Charles I. Personally, I’m sure that it did have great impact on his character and on him as a person. But an aspect of this, which I think is seldom referred to, is its effect not only on England, as a country, but English history. In fact, it seems to me that the English Civil War was very much influenced by the effects stuttering had on King Charles I. In some respects, it might even be possible to say that had it not been for his stuttering, the English Civil War might not have happened at all.
Oddly enough, I can find very little references to the effects stuttering had on King Charles I, not only for himself but on other people (which I’m sure it did). There are hardly any references to it by anyone who had an audience with him or knew him. The main references only state that he did stutter. The extent, and severity, of the problem is not specified. This could mean a number of things:
- It was not that bad. Perhaps it was a mild affliction? If it was then most of what I say here is incorrect. I’m going on the assumption, in this article, that it was a problem for King Charles I. I tend to take this viewpoint because of his character which suggests that it may of had great impact on him (see below).
- It happened sporadically. Perhaps it was worst in stressful situations (such as in confronting Parliament)? Perhaps it was worst in his youth and improved as he got older?
- It was not mentioned out of “respect”. That is to say, it was “looked over” in the accounts of other people as it would be viewed as “impolite” and, perhaps, “rude” to speak about it openly.
- The society, then, did not view it as severely as it did later. To me, this seems very possible. As far as I know, he was not criticized for it, condemned, or ridiculed as many people with stuttering often are today. Its possible that it was only viewed as an “inconvenience” by the people around him. But I tend to feel, though, that it had great impact on King Charles I himself to the point that it affected his character and behavior. If this is true then it would mean that it was not a “social problem” but a “private battle” fought by King Charles I
Something like stuttering could easily create a dilemma for King Charles I for, as King, he was in a very social position in which speech was critical. As a result, a problem like this would place great burden and stress on King Charles I. Since the duties of the King is social in nature it would mean that it would have great impact on his acts and behavior as a King. Because of the influence of the King’s acts on the government it means that it would have great impact on the government. Its because of this that I feel that it may have had a major influence in the problems that were common in his reign, particularly with Parliament, which would have effected his association with them. In this way, it would of helped to cause the English Civil War and, incidentally, his eventual execution. This is a side of things I have never heard before as most debate on the English Civil War only emphasize the political or religious aspects as if that’s all that was important.
The effects of stuttering on a person varies, of course, to minimal to a major impact. This, of course, would vary with the person, society, culture, and severity of the ailment. Considering the position that King Charles I was in, as Heir to the Throne and later King, one could suppose that it was no minor problem and, more than likely, could easily have tremendous effect. So far, as I mentioned above, it does not seem to of had great impact on him from the people around him. The effects, it seems to me, were primarily personal. Because of this, he had to behave in a way that “accommodated” the awkward effects that stuttering had on him. In this way, it would have great impact on his character. Some of the character traits it may of caused include:
- It made him shy or reluctant to associate with people.
- It made him tend to be quiet and silent.
- It made him use as little words as possible.
- It made him passive and not forward in his manner.
- It made him avoid confrontation and arguments with people. This was probably one of the reasons why he did not want to argue with Parliament and kept dissolving them whenever there was a dispute. We must also keep in mind that this may very well hint at a possible phobia that he may of had toward “official” disputes involving many people. It may of also been the cause of why he tended to neglect problems as it would require confrontations.
- It made him “seek approval” from people. It appears that this tendency had great impact on his association with Parliament. The power of this want of approval was probably seen in things such as his approval of the execution of the Earl of Strafford (which doesn’t make any sense) which haunted him all his life. It may also account for the many unusual concessions he granted Parliament as well (which also tended to not make any sense). In many ways, he may very well of been seeking their “approval” by blindly approving their requests.
- It made him rely on other people. The best example of this was his reliance on the Duke of Buckingham in his early years.
- It made him “polite”. This politeness probably may as if overcompensated the social problems his stuttering caused him.
- It made him rely on the “Divine Right of Kings”. This gave him a means to “explain away” conflicts and issues that appeared and thereby avoiding confrontation and arguments with people. I also tend to think that it made him “not have to make decisions”, so to speak, as Divine Right will make the decision for him. This way, it would mean that he would not have to make “official” proclamations and arguments with people.
Many of these traits are described in the accounts of people who knew him. In short, it appears that stuttering may of had a great impact on him by making him a reserved, unassuming, and agreeable person who avoided confrontation with people. Its possible, even, that he may of developed a form of a social phobia in certain social relations as a result.
This type of character, of course, would have great impact on his behavior and actions as a King. I’ve always felt that the main problem of King Charles I, in his political actions, was one of neglect. Looking at the character of King Charles I makes me think that this neglect was not a result of things like these:
- It was not deliberate on his part. That is to say, he didn’t just neglect things because he wanted to, for whatever reason.
- It was not a result of carelessness. That is to say, he wasn’t just being negligent.
- It was not a result of malicious intent. That is to say, he did not have sinister motives.
From how it appears to me, it seems more likely to have other deeper origins. What I mean by this is that it probably has psychological origins. Its possible that this neglect may possibly have origins, or at least is affected, by his stuttering (perhaps associated with other psychological issues as well). If this is the case then it would mean that his stuttering may of had far greater an effect than it seems. In other words, this would mean that a simple case a stuttering changed British history. I tend to feel that may very well be the case.
But people, and especially Historians, tend to only look at Kingship and the English Civil War from a purely political or religious point of view. From these angles it is very easy to see King Charles I in these ways:
- As a “tyrant”. That he was someone who “wants to control”.
- As a “fool”. That he did things without thought and consideration.
- As a “dimwit. That he was stupid and dumb.
What tends to be forgotten, a lot of times, is the psychology of the people involved. In history, especially when it involves politics and religion, there is a tendency to stand too far distant from things and look at things from an overall abstract and grand conceptual viewpoint of politics and religion. In this way, there is a tendency to overlook small little things that have great impact, such as the individual psychology of individual people. Typically, the psychology of individual people are looked at only from the political and religious point of view which, oftentimes, devalues their human qualities if they are acknowledged at all. It seems, to me, that this situation may of happened with King Charles I and the English Civil War.
(also see my article “Thoughts on the character of King Charles I“.)
Copyright by Mike Michelsen