The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a small breed of Spaniel-type dog, and is classed as a toy dog by most kennel clubs. It is one of the most popular breeds in the United Kingdom. Since 2000, it has been growing in popularity in the United States. It is a smaller breed of spaniel, and Cavalier adults are often the same size as adolescent dogs of other spaniel breeds. It has a silky coat and commonly an undocked tail. The breed standard recognizes four colours (Blenheim, Tricolour [black/white/tan], Black and Tan, and Ruby). The breed is generally friendly, affectionate and good with both children and other animals.
The King Charles had changed drastically in the late 17th century, when it was interbred with flat-nosed breeds. Until the 1920s, the Cavalier shared the same history as the smaller King Charles Spaniel. Breeders attempted to recreate what they considered to be the original configuration of the breed, a dog resembling Charles II’s King Charles Spaniel of the Restoration.
Various health issues affect this particular breed, most notably mitral valve disease, which leads to heart failure. This will appear in most Cavaliers at some point in their lives and is the most common cause of death. The breed may also suffer from Syringomyelia, a malformation of the skull that reduces the space available for the brain. Cavaliers are also affected by ear problems, a common health problem among spaniels of various types, and they can suffer from such other general maladies as hipdysplasia, which are common across many types of dog breeds.
History of The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Five children of King Charles I of England (1637) by Anthony van Dyck, featuring a spaniel of the era at the bottom right.During the 16th century, a small type of spaniel was popular among the nobility in England. The people of the time believed that these dogs could keep fleas away, and some even believed that they could prevent forms of stomach illnesses. These dogs were sometimes called the “Spaniel Gentle” or “Comforter”, as ladies taking a carriage ride would take a spaniel on their laps to keep them warm during the winter. Charles I kept a spaniel named Rogue while residing at Carisbrooke Castle; however, it is with Charles II that this breed is closely associated and it was said of him that “His Majesty was seldom seen without his little dogs”. There is a myth that he even issued an edict that no spaniels of this type could be denied entry to any public place.
During the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II, the long nosed style of spaniel went out of fashion. The Pug was the favoured dog at the time in the Netherlands, and with William’s Dutch origin, they became popular in England too. At this time interbreeding may have occurred with the Pug, or other flat nosed breeds, as the King Charles took on some Pug-like characteristics, but in any event the modern King Charles Spaniel emerged. In The Dog in 1852, Youatt was critical of the change in the breed:
The King Charles’s breed of the present day is materially altered for the worse. The muzzle is almost as short, and the forehead as ugly and prominent, as the veriest bull-dog. The eye is increased to double its former size, and has an expression of stupidity with which the character of the dog too accurately corresponds. Still there is the long ear, and the silky coat, and the beautiful colour of the hair, and for these the dealers do not scruple to ask twenty, thirty, and even fifty guineas.
During the early part of the 18th century, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, kept red and white King Charles type spaniels for hunting. The duke recorded that they were able to keep up with a trotting horse. His estate was named Blenheim in honour of his victory at the Battle of Blenheim. Because of this influence, the red and white variety of the King Charles Spaniel and thus the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel became known as the Blenheim.
Attempts were made to recreate the original King Charles Spaniel as early as the turn of the 20th century, using the now extinct Toy Trawler Spaniels. These attempts were documented by Judith Blunt-Lytton, 16th Baroness Wentworth, in the book “Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors Including the History And Management of Toy Spaniels, Pekingese, Japanese and Pomeranians” published under the name of the “Hon. Mrs Neville Lytton” in 1911.
Divergence from King Charles Spaniel
Two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels on Great South Bay, Long IslandIn 1926, American Roswell Eldridge offered a dog show class prize of twenty-five pounds each as a prize for the best male and females of “Blenheim Spaniels of the old type, as shown in pictures of Charles II of England’s time, long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed, with spot in centre of skull.” The breeders of the era were appalled, although several entered what they considered to be sub-par King Charles Spaniels in the competition. Eldridge died before seeing his plan come to fruition, but several breeders believed in what he said and in 1928 the first Cavalier club was formed. The first standard was created, based on a dog named “Ann’s Son” owned by Mostyn Walker, and the The Kennel Club recognised the breed as “King Charles Spaniels, Cavalier type”.
World War II caused a drastic setback to the breed, with the vast majority of breeding stock destroyed because of the hardship. For instance, in the Ttiweh Cavalier Kennel, the population of sixty dropped to three during the 1940s. Following the war, just six dogs would be the starting block from which all Cavaliers descend. These dogs were Ann’s Son, his litter brother Wizbang Timothy, Carlo of Ttiweh, Duce of Braemore, Kobba of Kuranda and Aristide of Ttiweh. The numbers increased gradually, and in 1945 The Kennel Club first recognised the breed in its own right as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
The history of the breed in America is relatively recent. The first recorded Cavalier living in the United States was brought from the United Kingdom in 1956 by W. Lyon Brown, together with Elizabeth Spalding and other enthusiasts, she founded the Cavalier King Charles Club USA which continues to the present day. In 1994, the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was created by a group of breeders to apply for recognition by the American Kennel Club. The Cavalier would go on to be recognised in 1997, and the ACKCSC became the parent club for Cavaliers.