King Charles II (1630-1685) painted by Sir Peter Lely. King Charles II was lovingly devoted to his pet spaniels throughout his life, and the breed became known affectionately as the "King Charles spaniel."
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A young King Charles II and his beloved pet spaniels painted by Sir Anthony Van Dyck in 1635
Aristocratic Girl Blowing Soap Bubbles by Pierre Mignard 1674. The "original type" King Charles spaniel that Roswell Edlridge sought in 1926.
The Blenheim colored spaniel named affectionately after the Duke of Marlborough's Blenheim Palace
A portrait of Louise de Keroualle with her spaniel, who was the French mistress of King Charles II of England. The artist of this work is unknown but the painting has been attributed to Henri Gascar.
Queen Victoria's Favorite Dogs and Parrot painted by Sir Edwin Landseer, exhibited in 1838. The composition is centered around the be-ribboned spaniel, "Dash". Lying on a velvet covered footstool, he is surrounded by "Hester," "Nero," and "Lorey" the parrot.
In the 1600's, King Charles II of England adored his spaniel pets in childhood, and so began his life long love of "the gentle spaniel". When he assumed the throne, he was known to dote on his spaniels so much that he ignored state matters in favor of his dogs. He even issued a Royal Proclamation, commanding that all toy spaniels shall be granted entry everywhere in the British Empire, in any public place, even the Houses of Parliament. This decree is still in effect in England today!
The King Charles spaniel increased in popularity and became a favored pet in the homes of wealthy aristocrats as well. The breed was also known as a "comforter spaniel," due to its many significant contributions to the comfort of its owner. The spaniel was enjoyed as a lap or foot warmer, and used for its ability to attract fleas from its owner's body. Adored by royalty and aristocrats all over Europe, numerous King Charles spaniels were depicted in paintings by Titian, Van Dyck, Lely, Stubbs, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Romney, just to name a few. In the late 1600's, the Duke of Marlborough was known to be a major advocate of the King Charles spaniel, specifically his favorite coat type, the red and white "Blenheim" color, which is named after the Duke's estate, Blenheim Palace. The Blenheim is the most popular color of the breed today. In the 1800's England's Queen Victoria further brought the toy spaniels into royal favor. Queen Victoria commissioned Sir Edwin Landseer to paint her beloved spaniel "Dash," on his regal velvet stool, an image which became a popular needlework subject throughout the time of Queen Victoria's reign.
During the mid-nineteenth century dog breeding and dog showing became serious endeavors in England. It is during this time that many British dog breeds were developed while other breeds were altered. The King Charles spaniel underwent several changes at this time. Among these changes was that the dog became smaller, with a dome-shaped head, low-set ears and a short muzzle with a pushed-up, laid back nose. In the United States this breed is currently known as the English Toy Spaniel.
Consequently the longer nosed "original type" King Charles Spaniel seen during the Charles II reign were all but extinct by the mid 1920s. But fortunately, in 1926, an American named Roswell Eldridge presented a challenge to the King Charles Spaniel breeders in England that would change the course of history. Mr. Eldridge offered a prize money of £25 each for the first place dog and bitch as follows:
"Blenheim Spaniels of the Old Type, as shown in pictures of Charles II's time, long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed with spot in centre of skull. First prize of £25 in Class 947 and 948 are given by Roswell Eldridge Esq., of New York, USA. Prizes go to nearest to type required."
Two years later, in 1928, a dog owned by Miss Mostyn Walker, Ann's Son, was awarded the £25 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.)
That same year, at the Crufts show, a small group of breeders of "original type" King Charles Spaniels united and a breed club was formed. The name Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was chosen for the new breed. The addition of the word Cavalier was used to distinguish the new breed from the short nosed King Charles Spaniel.
The breed standard was also formed at this first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel club meeting in 1928. Ann's Son was brought to the meeting, as a live example of what the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel should look like.
Club members also brought in pictures of Toy Spaniels depicted in paintings of the old masters. The breed standard provided that there was to be no trimming of a Cavalier. The founding club members wanted a dog in its natural shape with no alterations by trimming or other means.
Mrs. Hewitt Pitt went on to impact the "reestablishment" of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel through her dedication to the breed and her high standards of perfection. Mrs. Pitt's "Ttiweh" prefix is found in the ancestry of Cavaliers all over the world. The six foundation dogs of this reconstructed Cavalier King Charles Spaniel were Ann's Son, his litter brother Wizbang Timothy, Carlo of Ttiweh, Duce of Braemore, Kobba of Kuranda and Aristide of Ttiweh.
In 1945 the Kennel Club in England granted separate registration status to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The first Cavalier Champion was appropriately owned by Mrs Pitt's daughter Jane. He was Ch. Daywell Roger and had been bred by Lt. Col. and Mrs Brierly. Very widely used at stud, Daywell Roger was a major contribution to the development of the breed in the middle of the Century.
The breed arrived in America in 1952 and in 1961 the American Kennel Club recognized Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with entry into the Miscellaneous class. In 1973, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Alansmere Aquarius won Crufts "Best in Show" and brought further popularity to the breed. In 1995 the Cavaliers were granted full recognition by the AKC as members of the Toy Group. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are one of the most popular breeds in the UK and one of the most popular toy breeds in the US today.