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King Charles Spaniel V Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

What’s the difference between the King Charles Spaniel, and the more recognised Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

The two varieties of spaniel type dogs have a lot of similarities and can be easily confused by anyone who does not know their differences. The more well known and more recently created Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are larger, heavier and taller, than the slighter and smaller King Charles, “Charlie” or English Toys, and the latter also has a flatter face and more domed skull. 

The two varieties also have the same four colours in the breed – Blenheim – orange and white, Ruby – solid and bright russet orange, Black and Tan and Tri-Colour. Originally these four colours were judged separately in their own KC classes, before being merged into one in 1903. 

Blenheim has a cute little folk tale originating from its namesake palace and battle, where the nervous Duchess of Malborough awaited news of her husband’s fate on the French battlefield. She supposedly stroked the head of her pregnant spaniel with her thumb to ease her anxiety. When the litter was born, they all carried the ghost of her telltale thumb mark atop their forehead as a chestnut coloured “Blenheim spot” which still appears on some dogs today.

The royal reference of “Charles” in both breeds is to Charles II who took the throne in 1661 after reinstating the English monarchy after Oliver Cromwell. Known for his extravagant lifestyle, King Charles II was also a prolific dog breeder, and was reportedly surrounded by a carpet of spaniels that followed him throughout the palace, even to meetings… despite being horrendously unhousebroken and unruly. 

His breeding stock produced both smaller, lap-dog types, and larger and more robust spaniels. The more “toy-like” individuals became affectionately known as “sleeve spaniels” and were very similar to the two breeds we have today, and the sturdier ones were taken out into the field to flush woodcock.

In 1926, after the breed was very nearly extinct, two people dared to bring back the original look of the King Charles Spaniel after 300 years of evolution. Lots of new breeds had been introduced from Japan and China – such as the Pekingese, Chin, and Pug, encouraging a more modern flat faced look. 

One such revival attempt involved a now extinct breed called the Toy Trawler Spaniel – which seemed to have descended from the King Charles Spaniel, and the Sussex Spaniel. A preserved specimen is currently on display in Tring (UK) in the Natural History Museum – it’s name is Robin, and it belonged to Lady Wentworth, however, her attempts were mostly unsuccessful.

The other attempt was undertaken by a man called Roswell Eldridge. His aim was to have a breed that looked more like the dogs that once carpeted King Charles II’s palace, able to both flush woodcock and be a lapdog. He coined the name “Cavalier” as a nod to the historical Royalist party. This was supported by King Edward VII who was keen to have the royal connection maintained, rejecting the suggested “Toy Spaniel”. This is where the American Kennel Club got the name from as they refer to them as English Toys.

He offered a new incentive with a new “Cavalier Type” special class to win, but unfortunately only four dogs entered during the first year due to disinterest and hostility. Essentially, he was rewarding and praising an entire class of previously rejected faults with longer muzzles and flat foreheads – which are not part of the King Charles Spaniel’s standard.

A few years later, the classes had more popularity – supposedly because the breeders involved had had more time to outcross and breed in new traits to achieve the results and overall look that Elridge was after.

Three years after the classes were introduced, a dog named Ann’s Son, won Best of Breed in the class of Elridge’s “Cavalier Type” in 1928, and ended his show career undefeated two years later. This dog was the basis for the Cavalier’s standard today. His breeder Mostyn Walker, a King Charles enthusiast, also bred Papillons, which could be a hypothesis for where the elongated muzzle originated. Other sources suggest Cocker Spaniels, or Welsh Springer Spaniels were brought into the lines to transform the King Charles into the Cavalier with a longer nose that we see today. The breeds were officially split into two by the Kennel Club seventeen years later in 1945, and were recognised as separate breeds. 

The Cavalier has since gained a lot of popularity, especially in the 60’s, and now the original King Charles Spaniel is sadly a Vulnerable Native Breed in the UK with less than 200 puppy registrations each year and is very rarely recognised by the general public.

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