by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 17, 2009)
Even though the English Toy Spaniel comprises one of England's oldest group of pure breeds, considerable confusion exists about him. This arises out of the fact that there are four varieties, divided by color and name. Moreover, in England, all four varieties are officially registered under the name for one variety, while Canada and the United States lump all four under the general name, English Toy Spaniels.
The varieties, as finally settled upon by the Toy Spaniel Club of England in 1885 are: King Charles, a black and tan; Ruby, a red; Prince Charles, a tricolor; and Blenheim, a red and white. Since 1923, in England, all four varieties are now listed as King Charles Spaniels. Strangely enough, there would appear to have been no good reason why they should have been called King Charles Spaniels in the first place. King Charles I died in 1649, but Toy Spaniels were known in England at least 100 years earlier. King Charles II also favored Spaniels, as did King James. Some early writers referred to the breed as the King James Spaniel.
One of the greatest authorities on the breed states that the English Toy Spaniels, with exception of the Blenheim variety, are descendants of Dwarf Spaniels of France, and to a lesser extent, from similar dogs of Holland and Italy. There is the opinion that the dogs were much larger than the modern version. This would appear true of the dogs pictured by painters of the period of King Charles 1.
There is some evidence that the King Charles as a black and tan actually was developed by the Duke of Norfolk, and in much later times. This Duke of Norfolk gave his name, and probably erroneously, to the early Springer's. He prized his dogs so highly that he refused to sell or give them away. Unwanted pups were fed to his eagles. He did, however, give one to the Duchess of York on condition that she would not breed from the dog in direct line.
Some writers have pointed out that both Charles I and Charles II had a passionate love of all Spaniels, with many of his dogs being described as black and white, or black, rather than black and tan. But in any case, the name became associated with the two kings and stuck.
Many writers have suggested that the similarity of the English Toy Spaniel to the Japanese Spaniel and other oriental types indicates a strong relationship. Accordingly to these writers, the Japanese Spaniel, the Pug, and perhaps the Maltese, have been used in the ancestry of the English Toy Spaniel. There is, however, little beyond the speculative to give evidence of this.
At the same time, very much is known of the origin of the Blenheim or Marlborough variety. This red and white dog was originally called a Cocker, or Cocking Spaniel. Many writers testified to his gaminess. But he was the smallest of the Spaniel family to be used in hunting, and he tired rather quickly. He was given the name Blenheim as early as 1700.
Beginning about 1835 breeders began to shorten the muzzle of the three varieties. Eventually, the Blenheim was crossed with the others, until today, the four varieties are undistinguishable except as to color. Prior to 1885, only two types were recognized, the Blenheim and the King Charles. But in that year, breeders began to clamor for recognition of the red and tri-color. These were first registered separately in 1892. It had apparently been the intention to call the Prince Charles, the Prince Charlie, after Bonnie Prince Charlie, but through an error, the former name was given.
The breed was well known in the United States throughout the nineteenth century. While never among the very popular breeds, there was a sufficient demand to keep a number of so-called professional breeders busy supplying the market with puppies. The English Toy Spaniel is very affectionate and eager to please, as well as curious and bright. All of which put him in high demand as a pet.
One of the more interesting physical attributes of the English Toy Spaniel would be the long ears. An average-sized dog measures twenty inches from tip to tip. Normally set low down on the head and hang flat to the sides of the cheeks. The weight of the English Toy Spaniel is usually between 9 and 12 pounds.
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