CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL

A FASCINATING HISTORY OF THE CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL

The predecessors of the modern Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were often referred to as the ‘Spaniel Gentle’, or ‘Comforter Dog’, and it is thought that they were originally bred to warm the laps of their genteel owners on cold carriage rides and in chilly castles as well as attract flees thereby sparing their masters from the Plague.  They were also believed to relieve ‘the sickness of the stomach’ and a prescription written out for Queen Elizabeth I, directs her to keep a “comforté dog” on her lap to treat a cold.

While so many breeds of dogs no longer perform the tasks for which they were bred, Cavaliers still take their responsibility quite seriously.  It is almost as if the breed’s motto is “so many laps, so little time”.

Classified as a toy Spaniel, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has a history rich in Royalty that has been documented throughout the 16th to 18th Centuries by famous artists in their paintings and in historical journals and writings.  From all this we know that the charming little spaniels with long ears and long muzzle were the companions of royalty for a period of almost 400 years.

It was King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth that made these glamorous ‘little spaniels’ popular and highly prized, and Mary Queen of Scotland’s little black and white spaniel that rose to global fame in 1587 when he hid in her petticoats during her beheading.  There are also tales of ‘Rogue’, the little spaniel who belonged to Charles I and accompanied him everywhere he went, and even followed him to his execution in 1649.

It is however King Charles II, known as ‘The Cavalier King’, who became famously associated with them and after whom the breed is named.  ‘His Majesty’ was seldom seen without a few of his beloved ‘little spaniels’ at his heels.  So fond was King Charles II of his little dogs that he even made it law that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was to be accepted into any public place, even into the House of Parliament where animals were not allowed.  This ruling is apparently still in the law books today.

After the death of Charles II, his brother James II carried on his brother’s love of the ‘little spaniel’. It is reported that during a rough storm at sea, orders were given to abandon ship and that the King called out “Save the dogs and the Duke of Monmouth!” (his son) … was that his order of priority?

The long-nosed toy spaniel went out of fashion at the end of the 16th Century during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II who had brought from their native Holland a number of their favourite breed, the Pug.  This is perhaps where possible interbreeding of the ‘Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’ and the pug produced the flat-nosed, dome headed ‘King Charles Spaniel’. This is the type on display at early British dog shows.

In the early 18th Century the Duke of Malborough had a pack of red and white toy spaniels that he used for hunting pigeons. These red and white toy spaniels became known as Blenheims’, so called after The Dukes estate in Britain named Blenheim Castle. Legend has it that while the Duke was away fighting, the Duchess, waiting anxiously for news of the battle, was sitting with a pregnant spaniel on her lap and on whose head the duchess pressed her thumb while stroking her. When the puppies were born, all bore the red colour imprint of the duchess’s thumb on their heads … and this is the origins of the lozenge or ‘thumbprint’ mark to be found only on the head of a perfectly marked Blenheim.

In the second half of the 19th Century, Queen Victoria’s constant companion was a longer nosed ‘Cavalier’ type spaniel named ‘Dash’, who was thought to be a Tricolour. After his death the Queen had the following inscribed on his tombstone;

“Here lies Dash, the favourite spaniel of Her Majesty Queen Victory, by whose command this memorial was erected.  He died on the 20th December 1840 in his ninth year.  His attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, his fidelity without deceit.  Reader, if you would live beloved and die regretted, profit by the example of Dash.”

Despite the popularity of Dash, the flat-nosed King Charles variety were at that time the most common in Britain.

The reappearance of the original type of toy spaniel with the longer nose, must be credited to an American, Roswell Eldridge of New York.  He went to England in the early 1920s to purchase a spaniel of the ‘old nosey type’ that he had admired in paintings.  He was appalled that only the flat-face spaniels were seen and that the longer-nosed ones were no longer in existence.

He offered a cash prize of £25 for each class winner at the famous Crust’s dog show from 1926 to 1931 for what he called ‘Blenheim Spaniels of the Old Type as shown in the pictures of Charles II’s time’.  And so thankfully, the ‘Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’, so called to distinguish it from the flat-faced King Charles Spaniel, came into being again.

The first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club as formed in Britain in 1928 but was only given recognition by the UK Kennel Club in 1945.  In South Africa the first club started as a ‘fun club’ in 1998 for Cavalier owners.  In February 2003 it became affiliated to KUSA and held their first Open Show in June 2003.  This newly affiliated club, now called “THE CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL CLUB OF THE WESTERN CAPE” then held their very first Championship Show in 2008