Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
As its name implies, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is derived
from spaniel roots. These European toy dogs were probably the result
of breeding small spaniels to Oriental toy breeds such as the Japanese
Chin and perhaps the Tibetan spaniel. These Tudor lap dogs, known
as comforter spaniels, served as lap and foot warmers, and even
surrogate hot-water bottles.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel of today is
descended from the small Toy Spaniels seen in so many of the sixteenth,
seventeenth, and eighteenth century paintings by Titian, Van Dyck,
Lely, Stubbs, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Romney. 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. History tells us that King Charles
II was seldom seen without two or three spaniels at his heels. So
fond was King Charles II of his little dogs, he wrote a decree that
the King Charles Spaniel should be accepted in any public place,
even in the Houses of Parliament where animals were not usually
allowed. 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. The
King Charles spaniel continued to grace the homes of the wealthy
for generations, but with time a shorter-nosed dog was preferred.
In the early days, there were no dog shows and no recognized breed
standard, so both type and size varied. With little transport available,
one can readily believe that breeding was carried out in a most
haphazard way. 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.
It was at this stage that an American, Roswell Eldridge, began to
search in England for foundation stock for Toy Spaniels that resembled
those in the old paintings, including Sir Edwin Landseer’s
"The Cavalier's Pets." All he could find were the short-faced
Charlies. Eldridge persisted, persuading the Kennel Club in 1926
to allow him to offer prizes for five years at Crufts Dog Show -
twenty-five pounds sterling for the best dog and twenty-five pounds
sterling for the best bitch - for the dogs of the Blenheim variety
as seen in King Charles II's reign. The following is a quotation
taken from Crufts’catalog: "As shown in the pictures
of King Charles II's time, long face no stop, flat skull, not inclined
to be domed and with the spot in the center of the skull" and
the prizes to go to the nearest to the type described.
Evolution of the Breed
No one among the King Charles breeders took 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. At the end of five years
little had been achieved, and the Kennel Club was of the opinion
that the dogs were not in sufficient numbers, nor of a single type,
to merit a breed registration separate from the Charlies.
In 1928 a dog owned by Miss Mostyn Walker, Ann's Son, was awarded
the prize. (Unfortunately Roswell 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.
In 1996, the AKC recognized the Cavalier; it is too early to tell
whether its popularity will soar as a result.