Charles Spaniel. Today’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is descended from a small,
“toy” type of spaniel that was popular in 16th-century England. King Charles II, from
whom the breed gets its name, was so fond of these dogs that he decreed that they were
to be allowed in any public place, and it was said that “His Majesty was seldom seen
without his little dogs.” These spaniels were often referred to as “Comforters”; in the
winter, a noble lady riding in a carriage was likely to keep a spaniel in her lap for warmth.
While used by some for hunting small game, the King Charles Spaniel was typically
valued for its companionship and considered more of a luxury item than a utilitarian
Today’s King Charles Spaniel emerged in part from interbreeding with the pug—which
was in fashion in England during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II—
and the longer-nosed spaniels Charles II was so fond of. Their pointed noses, flat heads,
and almond-shaped eyes were replaced with the shorter muzzles, domed skulls, and
large, round eyes that characterize them today. The turn of the 20th century saw a final
attempt to revive the breed as it existed during King Charles’s time, but the modern
King Charles Spaniel—named “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel” by the Cavelier Club in
1928—persisted. During World War II, the breed declined significantly (with one registered
kennel dropping from 60 to 3 Caveliers), but regained popularity after the war
and throughout the 1940s.
Today, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is gaining popularity worldwide. There are
national Cavalier breed clubs in about a dozen countries, including Finland, Italy, New
Zealand, and South Africa. The Kennel Club reports that the Cavalier was the sixth
most popular dog in the UK in 2007, and according to statistics from the American
Kennel Club, they were the 25th most popular in the US in 2008, particularly in San
Francisco, New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C..