The History of Cavaliers Small spaniels has been popular companion dogs for hundreds of years. They were found in royal courts and noble homes in Spain (where the spaniel gets his name), France, England, and Scotland and were often prominently featured in their owners’ portraits. The Scottish Stuarts were especially fond of the little dogs. Mary, Queen of Scots had a toy spaniel by her side when she was executed, as did her descendant, England’s King Charles I. It was Charles and his son Charles II who lent their name to the dogs that eventually became known as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
The toy spaniels’ popularity began to wane after a new king, William, replaced James II (also a Stuart) on England’s throne. William was from Holland, and he favored Pugs. People began crossing the Pugs and spaniels, and eventually, their look changed, becoming more flat-faced with a domed head. Dogs like the ones seen in old portraits practically disappeared, except for a few lines here and there, like the ones kept by the Churchill family at Blenheim Palace. The dogs might have faded into the past except for one Roswell Eldridge, a wealthy American who offered a prize to anyone who could produce a dog like the ones he had seen in 17th and 18th-century paintings.
British breeders took up the challenge and rebuilt the breed, working with long-nosed English Toy Spaniels (called King Charles Spaniels in England). The first of the “new” spaniels was exhibited in 1928 at Crufts Dog Show. Alas, Eldridge did not live long enough to see him, but his estate paid the prize. Since then, the Cavalier has evolved into what he is today: a sturdy and highly popular companion, combining bird-dog nosiness and Toy-dog affection for people.
The Cavalier ranks 23rd among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 54th in 2000. That’s one of the largest leaps in popularity in the past decade.