Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

History and Development

Whatever its origin, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the direct descendant of the small Toy Spaniels depicted in paintings of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Toy Spaniels were quite common as pets among the ladies of the Tudor Court but, in England, it was the Stuarts who showed so much fondness for these little dogs that they were given Royal title of King Charles Spaniels.

Rarely was Charles II seen without several of these dogs at his heels and Samuel Pepys, the diarist, complained bitterly that at council meetings the King would play with his dogs rather than attend to council business. John Evelyn, writing in his diary, said: “He took delight in having a number of little Spaniels follow him and lie in his bedchamber where he suffered the bitches to puppy and give suck, which rendered it very offensive”. On the night on which the King died, several of these dogs lay by the fire in the next room, creeping in to their master when the door was left open.

One of the earliest paintings showing a Cavalier type Spaniel is Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian, in the National Gallery in London; it was painted about 1523.

When William of Orange became William III of England, the Pug dog of the House of Orange ousted the toy spaniel from favor and it was not until the 19th century that it made a come-back when a special strain of red and white toy spaniel, with a distinctive lozenge spot, was bred at Blenheim Palace by the Dukes of Marlborough. These little dogs were known for their sporting qualities as well as being favorite companions for the ladies. In those days, there were no dog shows and no recognized Standards, and so both type and size were very varied. With very little transport available, it is likely that breeding was carried out in the most haphazard fashion. It was all a matter of personal taste and probably depended on what stud dogs were available.

During Queen Victoria’s reign, breeders began to hold shows and toy spaniel enthusiasts began seriously to breed dogs, and to a desired type. This brought a new fashion; dogs with shorter faces, which gradually evolved into the completely flat face of the modem King Charles Spaniel. At that time, there were a number of very able breeders and they were extremely successful in breeding dogs of the highest quality with flat (aces, very high dome and with long, low-set cars. This type is still a popular and lovely breed.

It was at this stage that Mr. Roswell Eldridge, an American, came over to England and was unpleasantly surprised to find that there were none of his favorite little “nosey” Spaniels left. He set about trying to correct this situation by offering prizes over a period of three years (later extended to five years); £25 (S125) for best dog and best bitch, for animals of the Blenheim variety (red and white) as seen in King Charles H’s time, exhibited at Cruft’s dog shows. 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 prize to go to the nearest to the desired type.

No one among the breeders took these classes very seriously. After all, they had worked very hard to get rid of the long nose, and to restore it was never a popular move. Gradually, as the prize offer ended, only people who had become interested in reviving the dogs as they had once been were left to carry on breeding experiments. At the end of five years, very little recognition had been achieved; the Kennel Club was of the opinion that not only were there too few dogs, but those that were bred were not sufficiently of a single type to merit separate breed registration.

About this time, Mr. Eldridge died in America and, regrettably, he did not live to see the eventual fruits of his interest and generosity.

In 1928 a Club was formed in England and a title for the breed was chosen – Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It was very important that association with the King Charles Spaniel should be retained as some of the short-faced stock threw back very quickly and pioneers were often accused of using outcrosses to get the long face. This practice was not recommended by the club. Most reliable breeders realized that the longest way was the quickest, and they persisted in breeding back through experiments, gradually finding those short-faced dogs which threw-back easily to the original type.

At the first meeting of the club held at Cruft’s dog show, the Standard of the breed was drawn up and it was practically the same as it is today. The living dog, Ann’s Son, was chosen as a pattern for the Standard along with pictures of dogs of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Since this was a tremendous opportunity to achieve a really worth-while breed, it was agreed that the dog should, as far as possible, be guarded against the dictates of fashion – there was to be no trimming! A perfectly natural dog was desired; not to be spoiled by idiosyncrasy or by being “carved into shape”. Twenty years went by until, in 1945, the English Kennel Club granted the breed separate registration, followed in the next year by the first set of Challenge Certificates.

From its very small and unpropitious start, the breed has grown to a registration of over two thousand in the United Kingdom.

The parent body in Britain is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club and there are breed clubs in Australia, New Zealand and in the United States. Finally, some of the dogs which have played a really big part in the breed: Ann’s Son, Ch. Day well Roger, Ch. Aloysius of Sunninghill (a tricolor), Ch. Abelard of Ttiweh, Ch. Cerdric of Ttiweh and Ch. Pargeter Bob Up.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Color

There are four basic colorations:—

Blenheim: Pearly white with red markings, well broken up, dark eyes, really dense pigment and, if possible, the lozenge spot.

Tricolor: Black-and-white with tan markings inside ears, on brow and down hind legs. These markings should be as clear as in the Blenheim.

Over-marking is a blemish rather than a fault.

Black-and-tan: One of the loveliest and, when good, quite one of the best Cavalier colors, but black-and-tans do need a great deal of presentation.

At their best they can challenge the blenheims.

Ruby: The most recently bred color and carrying a lot of faults, including thick necks and coarse coats, but it is improving all the time, and we now, at last, have ruby champions.

It is essential that all the colors carry heavy pigment, no excuses being made for the hereditary off-colored nose; a point of defeat for many otherwise good dogs.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Care

Reasonable attention to grooming the long silky coat is necessary to avoid tangles; otherwise, normal exercise and feeding are all that is necessary to keep it fit and well.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Character

They are extremely adaptable and make excellent companions for both young children and for older people. Sporting in character, absolutely fearless and with a gay, free action.


It must never be forgotten that, although the Cavalier is small, it is a royal breed and thus should possess great presence, quality and glamor. The accompanying photographs are chosen to illustrate this. Movement is of great importance – the gait should be elegant, light and airy. Temperament must be perfect; the dog should not be nervous or snappy. The breed has attained these qualities and they should be looked for and preserved.

The head should be almost flat between the ears and without any dome.

The stop is shallow; length from base of stop to tip is about 1½”. Nostrils should be well-developed and, as mentioned above, pigmented black.

The muzzle should taper well to the point.

Eye placement is very important. They should be set wide apart and be round and dark brown in color, giving that limpid, gentle look which all Cavaliers should have. A narrow head with black eyes, giving a hard “terrier” look is undesirable; so also is a muzzle which is too narrow. The ears should be long and set high, with plenty of feather.

The short-coupled body has plenty of spring of rib, and the back is level.

Shoulders should not be too straight; legs arc moderately boned and straight. Docking of the tail is optional, but its length should be in balance with the body.

The long, silky coat should be free from curl although a slight wave is permissible. There should be plenty of feather.

Weight has always been a bone of contention, but the Standard calls for a small, well-balanced dog between 12 lbs. and 18 lbs; most of the best have been in the top weights but the breed is still very young, and it is hoped to produce perfection – a medium weight dog with all the virtues.


Selections from the book: “The World encyclopedia of Dogs” (1971)