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English Toy Spaniel


Original Works of art

Group: Toys
Breed Family: Spaniel

Not all the breeds in Pre-Victorian England were of the larger sort, for as we have seen, the court favored small toy dogs as pets. The origins of this breed are rather obscure, and little is known concerning them, although the affection of monarchs for these dogs is well documented. James I, Charles I and Charles II all kept toy dogs. As is seen in Van Dyck's ‘The Children of Charles I’ of c. 1630, they were beloved members of the family. In this painting, the huge Mastiff by Van Dyck is contrasted not only with the small children, but also with the playful little Spaniels in the composition. This little breed was soon to become very popular indeed in the royal court and when Charles II came to throne in 1649, the breed enjoyed an unprecedented place in the royal household. What we now think of as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are said to have been allowed free access at all times to Whitehall, Hampton Court and the other royal palaces.

The contemporary author Pepys, after a visit to the Council Chamber of Charles II recorded that "All I observed was the stillness of the King, playing with his dogs all the while and not minding his business." So great was Charles’ affection for his little dogs, that when one or another was lost or stolen -- a relatively common occurrence -- he was inconsolable and advertised for their return. Not surprisingly, these small pet Spaniels, as opposed to the sporting variety described in contemporary texts, became known as King Charles Spaniels.

Dr. Caius describes a Toy Spaniel, most probably an early ancestor of the King Charles, as follows: "Of the delicate, neate, and pretty kind of dogges called the Spaniel gentle, or the comforter...these dogges are little, pretty, proper, and fyne, and sought for to satisfie the delicatenesse of daintie dames and wonton women's wills, instrumentes of folly for them to play and dally withall, to tryfle away the treasure of tyme. These puppies, the smaller they be, the more pleasure they provoke, as more meete playfellowes for mincing mistresses to beare in their bosoms, to keepe company withal in their chambers, to succor with sleepe in bed, and nourish with meate at boarde, to lie in their lappes, and licke their lippes as they ride in their waggons."

According to Dr. Caius, the superstitious people of the middle ages believed that little Spaniels were able to assuage sickness of the stomach by being worn as plasters or borne in the bosom.

The dogs depicted in the painting by Van Dyck of the royal children are the ancestors of what is known in England today as the King Charles Spaniel, and in America as the English Toy Spaniel. What is now known as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a relatively new breed, being developed some seventy years ago.


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