Duke of Marlborough family with two Cavaliers
History of the Breed
In the last five hundred or more years, small dogs
of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-type have brought immense
pleasure to the lives of royalty, world leaders and countless
ordinary men, women and children.
Few other breeds can
claim an ancestry dating back to the 13th century; records of
canine companions of humble peasants are virtually nonexistent.
However, the Cavalier - or the small toy Spaniel as it was
described - was the companion of the most aristocratic members of
society, and they frequently included their beloved pets in
family portraits, providing breed historians with excellent
A nother theory dates back
to 900 A.D., when the Emperor of China sent a gift of two of his
Pekingese to the Dalai Lama of Lhasa. Some believe that these two
dogs are the ancient ancestors of the Toy Spaniel and that the
breed was then brought to Spain by Portuguese explorers. We can
be sure that the Toy Spaniel was in England by 1554. A painting
by Antonio Moro (which now hans in Woburn Abbey) whow Queen Mary
I and Philip of Spain with a couple of Toy Spaniels at their feet.
Earlier than this, Henry VIII had made a decree that only "some
small spaniels for the ladies" cold be kept at court.
I n 1570, an essay entitled
De Canibus Britannicus was produced by Dr. Johannes Caius, Queen
Elizabeth I´s chief physician. It catalogued all breeds of dog
known at the time. He included "Spaniell gentle or comforter
- a delicate, neat and pretty kind of dog ... chamber companions,
pleasant play fellows" - words just as appropriate today.
The doctor also attributed strange healing powers to the dogs.
"We find that these littledogs are good to assuage the
sickness of the stomach ... ".
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I n 1587, a small black and
white spaniel was ruputed to have been unable to save her
cherished mistress´s life. After Mary Queen of Scots´execution,
her little dog was found hiding beneath her petticoats, loyal to
the last. In 1648, when the second civil war led to Charles I´s
being held captive in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight,
his Toy Spaniel "Rogue" was by his side. When Charles I
was beheaded the following year, Rogue was taken by one of the
Roundheads and flaunted around London. However, it was from King
Charles II that the King Charles Spaniel took its name. On the
day the King returned to England from exile, Samuel Pepys
recorded in his diary: "The King was rowed ashore in the
Admiral´s barge, while I followed in a smaller boat with Mr.
Mansell, one of the footman and a dog that the King loved."
In fact, Charles was rarely seen without his dogs, causing Mr.
Pepys to write that he was always in trouble for "playing
with his dogs all the while, and not ninding his business."
It is a popular myth that King Charles II passed a low giving
every dog of the breed special rights and privileges.
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brother, James II, succeeded him, and he proved to be another dog
lover. When he was forced to abandon ship off the Scottish coast,
he gabe the order "save the dogs," addding "and
Colonel Churchill" after a pause. Luckily, Colonel Churchill
was saved. He later became the Duke of Marlborough and wnt on o
keep his won red and white Spaniels. While abroad fighting in the
Battle of Blenheim, his wife Sarah the Duchess is reputed to have
been ina very anxious state at home, waiting for news. For
comfort, she stroked one of their Spaniels that was soon to have
puppies. She repeatedly pressed her thumb on the bitch´s head.
When news of the great battle victory arrived, five puppies were
born bearing red thumbprints on their foreheads. This mark became
known as the Blenheim spot.
I n the second half of the
19th century, breeders began to hold shows and think seriously
about breeding the Toy Spaniel to a desired type. It was at this
time that the breed´s appearance started to alter. A shorter
face found favor with the breeders, a sdid a domed head and
longer, low-set ears (the King Charles Spaniel). The old type of
toy spaniel had almost completely disappeared by Edwardian times.
In 1886, the Toy Spaniel Club was founded. Rebirth of the old-type
Toy Spaniel can be traced to an advertisement in the catalog of
Charles Cruft´s Dog Show in 1926: "Blenheim Spaniels of the
Old Type, as shown in the pictures of Charles II´s time, long
face, no stop, flat skull not inclined to be domed, with a spot
in the centre of skull.
The first prizes in classes 947 and 948
are given by Roswell Eldridge, Esq., of New York, and will be
continued for five years. Prizes go to the nearest to type
required." 25 pounds was an enormous amount of money in
those days and it ensured that his whim was not completely
ignored. In the years 1926 - 1929, the winner of the money for
the best dog was Ann´s Son, a key figure in the breed´s history.
Ann´s Son was a Blenheim of such outstanding quality that he
attracted many new admirers to the breed. The ancestry of all
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels today can be traced back to this
dog. Ann´s Son was also used as a live illusration of the type
required. Breeding away from the short flat face of the King
Charles was giong to be difficult. It is thought that the
introduction of some drop-eared Papillon blood was responsible
for the revival of the long nose and the desired flat-top head.
T he Kennel Club didn´t separate the registration of the King
Charles from the Cavalier King Charles until 1945. In the
intervening years the two breeds have changed places in the
popularity ratings quite dramatically. The Cavalier is quite
regularly in the top five most popular breeds in Britain. In 1973,
Alansmere Aquarius became the first Cavalier and the first Toy
dog to win Best in Show at Cruft´s - a remarkable achievement,
only six generations on from Ann´s Son. Cruft´s Dog Show still
remains the most prestigious conformation competition in England.
The media exposure the breed received resulted in a population
explosion. The Cavalier was hailed as the ideal pet - it needed
no trimming unlike the once-fashionable Poodle and it was such a
convenient size. People breeding for cash were attracted and pet
shops and dealers tried to buy up breeding stock. Somehow, the
special qualities that made the breed so special have managed to
H istory has repeated
itself and the Cavalier has found its place once more in the
royal household. Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret had a
Cavalier called "Rowley" who quite often appeared with
his mistress in photographs. Another very prominent Cavalier was
the attractive Blenheim that shared the White House with
President Reagan and his wife.