Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - March, 2001

This column takes up where the December 2000 column in the AKC GAZETTE left off -- examining the life of England's Charles II and his troupe of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

* All the King's Dogs PART TWO

Charles II left a number of the spaniels with his sisters, Henrietta and Mary, and Mary's husband, William of Orange. The Orange household was taken with the look of the Pug, and began to breed the spaniels to suit their own tastes, crosses that the king probably viewed with disdain.

Fortunately, Charles had a brother, James (later James II), who also adored the spaniels. Charles and James had a pact to carry on breeding of the dogs in the event of Charles' death. For instance, once, when forced to abandon a sinking ship, James called to all hands, "Save the dogs and the Duke of Monmouth." This incident offers clear proof of just how important the spaniels were to the Stuart family.

Charles II died at the age of 54. His attendant wrote that there were a dozen small spaniel dogs at the king's bedside when he passed away.

For two more centuries the breed was prevalent in the royal houses, particularly those of the Dukes of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace and at the Court of St. James. The spaniels figured prominently in the British monarchy until the mid-19th century, when their look began to change and they became what we know as the English Toy Spaniel.

Queen Victoria's beautiful tricolor, Dash, is shown in a famous 1838 needlepoint that captures his large eyes, flat skull and high-set ears. Seven years later, Landseer painted his now-famous "The Cavalier's Pets," which is a painting of two beautiful spaniels, a Tricolor and a Blenheim, with the same large eyes, soft expressions, length of muzzle, flat skulls and high-set ears.

By 1907, the show specimens of the breed were disparagingly referred to in Cane's New Book of the Dog as "goggle-eyed, pug nosed, pampered little peculiarities." For some 20 years, the breed was virtually nonexistent until Roswell Eldridge issued his challenge and prize to the breeder of a "Spaniel of the old type, as shown in the pictures of King Charles II's time, [with a] long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed..." The breed soon began to regrow its roots and the rest is a very happy history.

Not only did Charles leave behind a more stable monarchy, he left behind a living legacy for all of us to cherish.

Charles' efforts are well summed up by Hugh Dalziel in the book British Dogs. In 1881, Dalziel wrote: "The merry monarch did many more foolish things than take under his royal care and favor, and thereby raising to court, the beautiful toy spaniel which still bears his name."

- John D. Gammon, AKC Parent Club President & Gazette Breed Columnist