Toy spaniels were the province of European nobility from at least Renaissance times. Two 17th-century British monarchs, the ill-fated King Charles I and his son Charles II, were especially devoted to a black and tan variety of toy spaniel that eventually was named in the latter’s honor. According to the famed diarist of the Restoration era, Samuel Pepys, Charles II seemed more concerned with breeding spaniels than ruling Britain.
Toy spaniels remained a great favorite of British aristocrats into the early 19th century. Among their upper-crust partisans of this era was the Marlborough family, who bred a line of red-and-whites at Blenheim Palace. Later in the century, in the age of Victoria, the breed was crossed with Asian toys, probably Pugs and Japanese Chin, and became what is known in America as the English Toy Spaniel (or, in the United Kingdom, the King Charles Spaniel).
This new-style toy spaniel had a domed skull and a flatter face than those of Charles’s time. Before long, this type came to dominate, and the traditional toy spaniel of the Restoration was rendered nearly extinct—but not forgotten.
Fanciers of the 1920s wondered whether there still existed the old-type toy spaniel immortalized in ancestor portraits hanging in the stately halls of English manors. A wealthy American named Roswell Eldridge offered a cash prize to British breeders who could produce “Bleinheim Spaniels of the Old World type.” The prospect of prize money drove breeders to revive the old style. These dogs were dubbed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. (The name Cavalier is a nod to the monarchist party that supported the Stuarts during the civil war that cost Charles I his head.)
The breed is notable for its four distinct color patterns, each of which, at various times, was associated with a particular noble family: Blenheim (chestnut markings on a white background), Tricolor (black markings on a white background), Black and Tan (black with tan markings), and Ruby (a rich red).
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