The history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is somewhat confusing so I’ll do my best to make it simple here. Bear with me because there’s a lot to tell. The facts below are gleaned from many sources, including the AKC, the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, Wikipedia (don’t you love this site and hate to admit it?) and more.
The Cavalier is descended from the Blenheim-coated spaniel that was the favorite children’s pet in the English household of King Charles I. This is the dog seen in many 16th, 17th and 18th century paintings of Titian, Van Dyck, Stubbs, Gainsborough and their contemporaries, which portray small spaniels with flat heads, high set ears, almond eyes and rather pointed noses.
Having grown up with these pets as a child, the adult Charles II was seldom seen without 2 or 3 spaniels at his heels. He loved these spaniels so much that when he became King, Charles II wrote a decree that the King Charles Spaniel should be accepted in any public place, even in the Houses of Parliament – where animals were not usually allowed. They say this decree still exists in England today.
King Charles II was an interesting character; his wife never bore any children, but he sired at least 12 illegitimate children with various mistresses. It was the Parliament of his day that was dubbed the “Cavalier Parliament,” not Charles himself. The Cavalier Parliament was overwhelmingly Royalist and Anglican, and issued many acts to secure Anglican domination and deny religious freedom. Charles II was himself a religious tolerant, especially of Roman Catholics – as many of his family members were Catholic, including his brother James, Duke of York (who later became King James II). Although previously favorable to the Crown, the Cavalier Parliament was alienated by many of Charles II” wars and religious policies. Turns out the Parliament’s suspicions were accurate; Charles famously converted to Catholicism on his deathbed (I knew I liked this King).
Don’t you think it’s ironic that the breed Charles II loved so much was named after the Cavalier Parliament with which he was so often in conflict!
With the accession of William III and his wife, Queen Mary II, the long nosed style of spaniel went out of fashion. The Pug was the favored dog at the time in the Netherlands, and with William’s Dutch origin, they became popular in England too. It is believed that the King Charles Spaniel was then interbred with Pugs or other flat-nosed breeds. Indeed, the King Charles Spaniel began to take on Pug-like characteristics: it was smaller, with a pushed-in nose, undershot jaw, domed skull, low set ears and round frontal eyes. As a result, the King Charles Spaniel of the type seen in the early paintings almost became extinct. The pug-like spaniel is still in existence today, known as the King Charles Spaniel (English Toy Spaniel), also referred to as “Charlies.”
My feeling about Toy Spaniel is, what a bummer. If you’re going to be a Pug, be a Pug. This poor dog looks like a Cavalier who was punched in the nose.
One exception was the strain of red and white King Charles spaniels that was bred at Blenheim Palace by various Dukes of Marlborough. John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, recorded that this breed was able “to keep up with a trotting horse” and was used for hunting. Sir Winston Churchill, a descendant of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, was born at Blenheim Palace and is buried in a cemetery near by together with his wife, Lady Churchill.