The History of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is descended directly from the small “spaniel gentle, otherwise called Comforter” of the 16th Century. Useful as companions to court ladies who needed a combined confident, ornament, hot water bottle and flea-catcher, toy spaniels were common as ladies’ pets on the continent and in England in Tudor times. But it was in England, under the Stuarts that they were given the Royal title of King Charles Spaniels.

Historians noted, and Samuel Pepys complained that Charles II’s affection for them was extreme. He was seldom seen without several Cavaliers trotting at his heels. His passion was shared by his brother James II, but their younger sister Mary had married William of Orange and lived in Holland until 1688 when she and William became co-regents in of England. Their taste in dogs ran to Pugs and the spaniel was eclipsed in popularity among the aristocrats for some years.

One exception was the strain of red and white toy spaniels that were bred at Blenheim Palace by various Dukes of Marlborough. Paintings of Toy Spaniels as lap- dog companions in 16th, 17th and 18th centuries by the like of Titian, Van Dyck, Stubbs, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Romney, show a small dog with a flat head, high set ears, almond eyes, a rather pointed nose and in the case of the red and white dogs, a fairly light colour.

By the nineteenth century, England took up dog breeding and dog showing seriously. Many breeds were developed and others altered. The king Charles Spaniel remained very small, but he breeders over the years evolved a dog with a domed skull, long, low -set ears, a retroussé nose with an undershot jaw, and large, round frontal eyes. A number of Landseer paintings document the changes. By 1900, the English Toy Spaniel (King Charles Spaniel as we know it) was a distinct type.

By the mid-1920’s an American named Roswell Eldridge began to search for foundation stock in England for Toy Spaniels that resembled those in the old paintings, but he found only the King Charles (known as ” Charlies”) He persisted, persuading the Kennel Club in 1926 to allow him to offer prizes of 25 pounds annually for five years at Crufts Dog Show to the persons who presented the dog and bitch most resembling the dogs of the 17th century – “as shown in the picture of Charles II’s time, long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed, with the spot in the centre of the skull”

A few people accepted the challenge and bred from throwbacks to this type of spaniel. In 1928, a dog owner by Miss Mosteyn Walker, “Ann’s Son” was awarded the prize. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was formed on the second day of Crufts Show in February 1928. A breed Standard, using Ann’s Son and examples in paintings as models, was drawn up and Amice Pitt took on the stewardship of the breed and influenced its development for fifty years. Roswell Eldridge died at the age of 70, a month before Crufts in 1928, so he never saw the results of his challenge prizes.

The revival of the breed did not go so far as to return to the small eyes and snipy muzzle of the 18th century, but called for dark, lustrous, large, but not protruding eye and a full muzzle with cushioning on the cheeks that gives a soft, gentle look. There was little support for the “old-type” spaniel in the beginning and some ground was lost during World war II when few people could keep the breed going. Even so, soon after the return to peacetime, the Kennel Club granted the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel separate registration from the English Toy Spaniel (King Charles) and gave it a set of Challenge Certificates in 1946.

In this first year as an officially distinct breed, Amice Pitt’s Daywell Roger of Ttiweh won the dog cc and Katie Eldred’s Belinda of Saxham won the bitch cc. The breed grew in numbers and quality in England, to the point where it is by far the most popular toy dog and in the top five all breeds.

Meanwhile in the USA, Mrs W L Lyons Brown of Kentucky had been sent three Cavaliers by her friend Lady Mary Forwood. She found the others in America who owned Cavaliers and organised the CKCSC-USA in 1956 with the idea of keeping a stud book and getting together with other American fanciers. In 1956 the friends gathered at “Sutherland:, the home of Mr and Mrs George Garvin Brown in Prospect, Kentucky for the first Cavalier King Charles Specialty Show in America. By then 118 dogs had been registered, 68 of them born in the US from 24 litters.

And that was the start of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club USA- prior to recognition by the American Kennel Club commonly still called the “Old Club” The AKC forced recognition some twenty years ago and now there is a thriving American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club.

To be continued…