The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a delightfully affectionate, playful, intelligent little dog that repays his owner’s care and attention with an endearing devotion.

A toy breed, they have a natural coat which needs no trimming, long silky ears, and large soulful eyes. More than one person has described them as looking like a Cocker Spaniel puppy all their lives. The tail is often left natural. The standard makes tail docking optional, but two thirds of the tail must be left intact. Dew claws are removed as they are thought to be a hazard to the prominent eyes.

They come in four color combinations: Blenheim (Red and White, with a red mask and ears, and red patches on a white body); Tricolor (Black and White with Tan Points), Ruby (Solid Red), and Black and Tan (without white).

In addition to being a fine companion, one of the jobs the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was originally bred to do was to warm laps in drafty castles and on chilly carriage rides (the other job was to attract fleas & thereby spare their masters in the days of the Plague). While so many other breeds of dog no longer perform the tasks for which they were bred (pulling milk carts, herding sheep, hunting lions, for example), Cavaliers still take their responsibility quite seriously. A prescription written in Olde English for the Queen of England directs her to keep a “comforte dog” (now known as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) on her lap to treat a cold. It is almost as if the breed’s motto is “so many laps, so little time.” Cavaliers take cuddling so seriously that “If you want your pillow you must get there first” is often heard when Cavalier owners gather.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel of today is descended from the small Toy Spaniels seen in so many of the 16th, 17th and 18th Century paintings by the likes of Titian, Van Dyck, Lely, Stubbs, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Romney. These paintings show the small spaniel with a flat head, high set ears, almond eyes and a rather pointed nose. During Tudor times, Toy Spaniels were quite common as ladies’ pets but it was under the Stuarts that they were given the royal title of King Charles Spaniels and history tells us that King Charles II was seldom seen without two or three at his heels. So fond was King Charles II of his little dogs, he 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. This decree is still in existence today in England. As time went by, and with the coming of the Dutch Court, Toy Spaniels went out of fashion and were replaced in popularity by the Pug. One exception was the strain of red and white Toy Spaniels that was bred at Blenheim Palace by various Dukes of Marlborough.

In the early days, there were no dog shows and no recognized breed standard, so both type and size varied. With little transport available, one can readily believe that breeding was carried out in a most haphazard way. By the mid-nineteenth century, England took up dog breeding and dog showing seriously. Many breeds were developed and others altered. This brought a new fashion to the Toy Spaniel – dogs with the completely flat face, undershot jaw, domed skull with long, low set ears and large, round frontal eyes of the modern King Charles Spaniel, also called “Charlies,” known in the USA today as the English Toy Spaniel. Due to this “new” fashion, the King Charles Spaniel of the “old type” as seen in the early paintings was almost extinct.

It was at this stage that an American, Roswell Eldridge began to search for foundation stock in England for Toy Spaniels that resembled those in the old paintings, including the painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, “The Cavalier’s Dogs,” but all he could find were the short faced “Charlies.” He persisted, persuading the Kennel Club in 1926 to allow him to offer prizes for five years at Crufts Dog Show — 25 pounds sterling for the best dog and 25 pounds sterling for the best bitch — for the dogs of the Blenheim variety as seen in King Charles II’s reign. The following is a quotation taken from Cruft’s catalog: “As shown in the pictures of King Charles II’s time, long face no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed and with the spot in the center of the skull” and the prizes to go to the nearest to the type described. No one among the King Charles breeders took this challenge very seriously as they had worked hard for years to do away with the long nose. Gradually, as the big prizes came to an end, only people really interested in reviving the dogs as they once had been, were left to carry on the breeding experiment. At the end of five years, little had been achieved and the Kennel Club was of the opinion that the dogs were not in sufficient numbers, nor of a single type, to merit a separate breed registration from the “Charlies.”

In 1928 a dog owned by Miss Mostyn Walker, “Ann’s Son” was awarded the prize but unfortunately Roswell Eldridge died at age 70, only a month before Crufts in 1928, so he never saw the results of his challenge prizes. It was in the same year that a Club was founded and the title “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel” was chosen. It was very important that the association with the name King Charles Spaniel be kept as most breeders bred back to the original type by way of the long faced throwouts from the kennels of the short faced variety breeders. Some of the stock threw back to the long faced variety very quickly and pioneers were often accused of using outcrosses to other suitable breeds to get the long faces, but this was not true and crossing to other breeds was not recommended by the Club.

At the first meeting, held the second day of Crufts in 1928, the standard of the breed was drawn up and it was practically the same as it is today. Ann’s Son was placed on the table as the live example and members brought all the reproductions of pictures of the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries that they could muster. As this was a new and tremendous opportunity to achieve a really worthwhile breed, it was agreed that as far as possible, the Cavalier should be guarded from fashion, and there was to be no trimming. A perfectly natural dog was desired and was not to be spoiled to suit individual tastes, or as the saying goes, “carved into shape.” Kennel Club recognition was still withheld and progress was slow, but gradually people became aware that the movement toward the “old type” King Charles Spaniel had come to stay. In 1945 the Kennel Club granted separate registration and awarded Challenge Certificates to allow the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to gain their Championships.

Meanwhile, in the USA, Mrs. W. L. Lyons Brown of Kentucky brought a Cavalier home from England. She found others in America who owned Cavaliers and organized the CKCSC-USA in 1956 with the idea of keeping a Stud Book and getting together with other American Cavalier Fanciers. At the beginning of the 1960’s, friends gathered at “Sutherland” in Prospect, Kentucky, for the first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Specialty Show in America. By then 118 dogs had been registered, 68 of them born in the USA of 24 litters. To this day, the CKCSC-USA keeps complete and accurate records of litters, imported Cavaliers, the Stud Books, etc. in addition to organizing Specialty Shows (for Cavaliers only) around the country so that Cavalier owners have the opportunity for an objective evaluation of their dogs by knowledgeable judges and so that their dogs can compete for a Championship in the USA. The Club’s stringent Code of Ethics, applying to all Club Members, makes the Cavalier in the USA a protected breed. This means that the Club expects its members to act responsibly with regard to the welfare and breeding of Cavaliers. It is hoped that the Code of Ethics would also help keep the Cavalier out of unethical hands which might turn the dogs over to puppy mills or pet shops. In 1985 the CKCSC-USA held a Silver Jubilee Show in Prospect, Kentucky, marking the 25th consecutive CKCSC-USA Specialty show.

In 1995, under increasing pressure by the AKC to move out of the Miscellaneous class, the Cavalier fancy split into two national breed clubs, and the Cavalier was fully recognized by the AKC in January of 1996. The original CKCSC-USA has repeatedly voted against recognition by the AKC and declined the offer to be the AKC recognized national breed club. The American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was subsequently formed, recognized by the AKC and wrote the current AKC Standard.

(Paraphrased from ‘Cavalier King Charles Spaniels‘)

Sharon Hope, May 5, 1993
with material supplied by the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club USA