The History of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – Featured image: “Young King Charles II of England with his Spaniel” by Van Dyck, c. 1600s. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel of today really owes its recreation to three things—an American, paintings, and prize money.
The Cavalier gained its royal stature way back in the 1600s during the rule of the Stuart Kings Charles I and his son Charles II. The dogs were court favorites and trailed both monarchs around the various castles, occasionally to the dismay of other subjects. They were prominently featured in the paintings of Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, and others.
At the end of their reigns and the annexation of Scotland into the United Kingdom, they were replaced by other breeds.
By the 1800s, the breed had morphed into the very short-faced, dome-headed English Toy Spaniel (or King Charles Spaniels over there). That look and type remained through the 19th century.
In the 1920s, an American named Roswell Eldridge noted the absence of the old longer-nosed, flat-skulled Spaniels he admired, and so for five years he offered a prize at Crufts of 25 pounds—a very tidy sum—to the dog and bitch most resembling the dogs in the paintings of the old masters.
In terms of AKC registration numbers, in 2017, the Cavalier ranked as the 19th most popular breed in the United States, trailing only the Yorkshire Terrier.
At this point in history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel roads diverge as to how the recreation of the breed truly came about. Some would have you believe that Charlie breeders just began to keep their longer-nosed pets and bred them to each other, while still others suggest that Cockers, Papillons, and even Welsh Springer Spaniels were added to the gene pool. I believe that the answer truly lies somewhere in between the two.
Whatever the case, in 1928 the prize was awarded to a Blenheim dog named Anns Son, and with him in the center of a table surrounded by breeders, a standard was written and the club was formed in 1929. Breed popularity continued to grow until it eventually became the UK’s top Toy dog.
The first Cavaliers arrived on these shores in 1952, and in 1956, sisters-in-law Gertrude Polk Brown Albrecht and Sally Brown formed a club and approached the AKC to find out how to get them admitted. Records were kept, shows were held (usually at Trudy’s farm in Louisville, Sutherland) and it languished in the Miscellaneous Class for twenty years.
In 1994, the AKC made it clear that Cavaliers would be recognized with or without a parent club. The Border Collie Club went through a similar situation and was recognized without a parent club. Faced with this inevitability, twelve concerned breeders (including those with many of the top-winning and top-producing dogs) organized a club, wrote a standard, and gathered the support of over one hundred other new members. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels became AKC’s 140th recognized breed on January 1, 1996.
ACKCSC has chosen this article to reprint in honor of the author and the history of our breed. Robert Schroll was selected by the ACKCSC Board of Directors to judge Best of Breed at the club’s 25th Anniversary Celebration in April 2019.