HISTORY OF THE CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL
The original King Charles Spaniels were popular dogs during the reign of Charles II, who adored small dogs. In many 17th-century paintings, these elegant canines sit on the laps of princes and princesses. Over the years, the breed evolved, creating a diversity of types that did not resemble the original.
An American dog breeder named Roswell Eldridge went to England in the1920s to find several of the classic King Charles Spaniels. Finding few options, he offered a prize for the best female and male breeds shown at the annual Crufts show. This sparked a new interest in King Charles Spaniels, but they did not receive AKC recognition until 1996. As his name implies, the cavalier King Charles spaniel is derived from spaniel roots.
The 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. In addition, they served the vital function of attracting fleas from their peoples’ bodies! The toy spaniels became especially popular because they appealed to all members of the family. In the 1700s, King Charles II was so enamoured with his toy spaniels that he was accused of ignoring matters of state in favour of his dogs. The dogs were so closely associated with him that they became known as King Charles spaniels.
After his death, the Duke of Marlborough took over as the major advocate of the breed; the red and white “Blenheim” colour, which was his favourite, is named after his estate. The King Charles spaniel continued to grace the homes of the wealthy for generations, but with time a shorter-nosed dog was preferred. By the early 1900s, the few dogs that resembled the early members of the breed were considered to be inferior.
A twist of fate occurred when a wealthy American, Roswell Eldridge, came to England and offered outlandish prize money for the best “pointed-nosed” spaniels, those most resembling the old type. Breeders bred their old-type dogs together in an effort to gain the prize, and in so doing, many came to appreciate the old type. Ironically, these dogs, named cavalier King Charles spaniels in honour of the “cavalier king,” eventually outstripped their short-nosed counterparts in popularity, becoming one of the most popular breeds in England.