Whereas many dog breeds have origins that are cloaked in controversy, those of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are cloaked in confusion. So let’s clear it up for you:
For starters, you must realize that there indeed does exist a breed known as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. There also exists a breed known as King Charles Spaniels. To further confuse the issue, both breeds are strikingly similar in appearance. So similar in fact, that some countries lump the two together under the common name of English Toy Spaniels.
And as if that weren’t enough, we must also add that even though considered spaniels, they are not gun dogs; neither are they classed in the sporting group.
To begin digging our way out of this confusion we must start by accepting the fact that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the King Charles Spaniel were originally one and the same. Spaniels have always been a favorite of aristocratic families of Europe.
King Charles II was one who was so enamored by the little spaniels that the court’s diary keeper noted: “They had access to all parts of Whitehall, even on state occasions.”
The diarist goes on to write:
“All I observed there was the stillness of the king playing with his dogs all the while and not minding to his business.”
Mary, Queen of Scots had an entire pack of small spaniels. Just before she was executed, one of the spaniels crept under her clothing, hung on tight and had to be removed by force. Toy spaniels appear in paintings by Gainsborough, Rubens, and even Rembrandt.
The little spaniels became so popular that over the years their pattern and characteristics changed. They developed diminutive characters, more similar to the Pekingese than to the miniature Springer Spaniel types. They eventually evolved as the spaniels King Charles love so much.
In 1920, an American living on Long Island in New York was reported to have put up some pretty interesting prize money at the famous Crufts Dog Show in England, for any breeder who could come up with a revival of the old type spaniel of the king’s era. The British breeders accepted the challenge and started from the bottom.
They reconstructed the spaniel over the period of just a few generations, and finally produced the original-looking King Charles Spaniel. But herein lies the problem – instead of getting to wear the original title (which they really deserved since they were replicas of the originals), they were called Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The addition of the name “Cavalier” would therefore distinguish them from what had evolved into the King Charles Spaniel of our present era.
From about the year 1926 until the present day, there are two separate breeds. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (most likely akin to the original King Charles Spaniel) and the King Charles Spaniel (far removed from what he was originally).