A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE
CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL
Although often believed to be “that pretty dog in those old European paintings”, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is less than 100 years old. A painting from 1440 by Antonio Pisano includes a pair of small spaniels that probably are distant relatives of the Cavalier of today. However, over the next 450 years, the look of this generic little spaniel was greatly altered as other popular breeds were mixed in. Among other changes, the head became dome-shaped and the face became very flat. That dog is now known as the King Charles Spaniel. So, how did today’s Cavalier come about?
In the 1920’s, an American gentleman attended a large British dog show and was very disappointed when he couldn’t find the spaniel from the old paintings. He wanted to see a little spaniel with a tail and a nose! He offered a reward to the breeder who could produce a spaniel that looked like the dogs from the time of King Charles II. In 1927, a dog named Anne’s Son met the criteria, and in 1928, the breed standard for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was created. Cavalier was added to the name of the breed to distinguish it from the King Charles Spaniel.
A standard defines all characteristics that a dog of the breed should possess; it defines movement and temperament as well looks. The standard of 1928 proscribed the physical characteristics of the dog with such requirement as having eyes that are round and large so that “the trust and gentleness of the Cavalier’s soul is communicated through its lustrous, limpid eyes.” It called for a full muzzle (the nose came back) and for a tail. This standard also preserved the temperament of the breed by calling for Cavaliers to be gay, friendly, and non-aggressive. In the Tudor courts, the little dogs were valued as companions as well as lap warmers. They were often referred to as Comforter Spaniels, and this reputation was not forgotten in the new standard.
Cavaliers came to the United States in the early 1950’s, and in 1954 the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was formed. This club was formed to protect the breed and to ensure that the standard was followed. In 1996, Cavaliers became the 140th breed recognized by the American Kennel Club. The Cavalier is a lovely little dog that does well in many living situations (as long as not left alone for too long), and it’s popularity has grown rapidly over the past 16 years. AKC recognition and the power of the Internet has also increased the popularity of the breed. Unfortunately, like many pure breeds, Cavaliers do have certain health problems.