Breed History

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(Image: Future King Charles II, circa 1635)

Today’s  Cavalier King Charles  Spaniel is descended from the small Toy Spaniels  depicted in so many  sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century  paintings. These paintings show small spaniels with flat heads, high  set ears, almond  eyes, and rather pointed noses. During Tudor times,  Toy Spaniels were  quite common as ladies' pets, but it was under the  Stuarts that they  were given the royal title of King Charles Spaniels. King  Charles  II was seldom seen without 2 or 3 spaniels at his heels. He  was so  fond of his little dogs, that he wrote a decree that the King  Charles  Spaniel should be accepted in any public place, even in the  Houses of  Parliament. (This decree is still in existence today in  England.) As  time went by, and with the coming of the Dutch Court, Toy  Spaniels went  out of fashion and were replaced in popularity by the  Pug. One exception  was the strain of red and white Toy Spaniels that  was bred at Blenheim  Palace by various Dukes of Marlborough.  

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(Image: Future Queen Victoria with her dog, Dash - 1833)

Young  Queen Victoria had beloved  tri-color spaniel called "Dash".  Dash  features prominently in early  episodes of the excellent PBS series  "Victoria". 

Long  ago, there were  no dog shows and no recognized breed standard, so both type and size  varied. By the mid-nineteenth century, England took up dog breeding and  dog showing seriously. Many breeds were developed and  others altered.  This brought a new fashion to the Toy Spaniel - dogs  with the  completely flat face, undershot jaw, domed skull with long, low  set  ears and large, round frontal eyes of the modern King Charles  Spaniel  (also called "Charlies" and known in the United States today as  the  English Toy Spaniel). As a result of this new fashion, the King  Charles  Spaniel, of the type seen in the early paintings, became almost   extinct.
 

In  1926, the Kennel Club was  persuaded to allow a rich American to offer prizes for the best  bitch or dogs of the Blenheim variety as seen in  King Charles II's  reign, after he had exhausted his search throughout in  England.  He was  looking for foundation stock to breed Toy Spaniels  that resembled  those in the old paintings.  All he could find were the  short-faced  "Charlies".
 

The  King Charles breeders did not  take this challenge very seriously as  they had worked hard for years to  do away with the long nose. Gradually,  as the big prizes came to an  end, only people really interested in  reviving the dogs as they once  had been were left to carry on the  breeding experiment. Little had been  achieved after five years.  The  Kennel Club was of the opinion that  the dogs were not sufficient in  number, nor of a single type, to merit a  breed registration separate  from the Charlies. 

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(Image: Ann's Son - 1928) 

The  final prize was awarded to Miss Mostyn  Walker’s dog, “Ann’s Son”, in  1928. (Unfortunately, Mr. Eldridge died in  1928 at age 70, only a month  before Crufts, so he never saw the results  of his challenge prizes.)  It was in the same year that a breed club was  founded, and the name  Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was chosen. It was  very important that  the association with the name King Charles Spaniel  be kept as most  breeders bred back to the original type by way of the long-faced  throwouts from the kennels of the short-faced variety  breeders. Some of  the stock threw back to the long-faced variety very  quickly. Pioneers  were often accused of using outcrosses to other  suitable breeds to get  the long faces, but this was not true, and  crossing to other breeds was  not recommended by the club.  


At  the  first meeting of the club, held the second day of Crufts in 1928,  the standard of the breed was drawn up; it was practically the same as  it is  today. Ann's Son was placed on the table as the live example, and  club  members brought all the reproductions of pictures of the  sixteenth,  seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries they could muster. As  this was a  new and tremendous opportunity to achieve a really  worthwhile breed, it  was agreed that as far as possible, the Cavalier  should be guarded from  fashion, and there was to be no trimming. A  perfectly natural dog was  desired and was not to be spoiled to suit  individual tastes, or as the  saying goes, "carved into shape." Kennel  Club recognition was still  withheld, and progress was slow, but  gradually people became aware that  the movement toward the "old type"  King Charles Spaniel had come to  stay. In 1945, the Kennel Club granted  separate registration and awarded  Challenge Certificates to allow the  Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to  gain their championships.  


A  whimsical tale ...The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough kept Toy or  Comforter Spaniels, lovingly known as “Carpet Spaniels.”  It was said   they were a beautiful adornment to any drawing room.  While the Duke  was  away, fighting the Battle of Blenheim, his wife waited anxiously at   home for news of her beloved.  During this time, she had a comforter   Spaniel on her lap constantly, pressing her thumb on the top of the   little female’s head to release her tension.  The bitch was in whelp  and  when the puppies arrived, all displayed the red thumbprint on their   heads!  The Blenheim spot, also called the Lozenge, is a desired trait   on the little ruby and white dogs.