The English Toy Spaniel (fondly referred to as the “Charlie”) has a long but well-documented history, with its origins firmly founded in Asia. Most authorities agree that the English Toy Spaniel or its immediate ancestors (probably the Japanese Chin and the Pekingese) came to Europe from Japan in the early part of the 16th century, when exotic lapdogs were extremely popular gifts among royalty. The English Toy Spaniel is prominently featured in art from that era. It reportedly first appeared in Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.” The dog in that painting is a red-and-white English Toy Spaniel, used to symbolize female seductiveness. Many other 16th century Italian artists, such as Paolo Veronese and Palma Vecchio, used this breed in their work. By the 17th century, the Charlie had become popular throughout Europe. Spanish painters such as Diego Velazquez and Juan de Vales Leal, and Dutch artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Caspar Netscher, portrayed them in their paintings. Most of the Toy Spaniels in artwork of this era were black-and-white or tricolored. By this time, the breed had gained immense popularity in England. It was a favorite of King Charles I and King Charles II. In his diaries, Samuel Pepys describes how these small spaniels were allowed to roam freely, even during official occasions, throughout the Palace at Hampton Court. King Charles II was one of the biggest advocates of this breed, and his patronage is what led to its official name in England: the King Charles Spaniel.
While the breed remained popular in Britain throughout the Stuart dynasty, the Revolution of 1688 had profound consequences for the breed. When William and Mary of Orange ascended to the throne, they brought their beloved Pugs from Holland with them. They crossed their Pugs with the popular tiny English Toy Spaniels, which led to several significant changes in the breed – most notably, a dramatic shortening of its muzzle and a smaller size. By the early 18th century, depictions of the Charlie began to reflect its flat face and different appearance from the dogs recorded by 16th and 17th century artists.
The popularity of Toy Spaniels in Britain did not wane during the 18th and 19th centuries. They continued to be crossed with shorter-nosed oriental breeds during the 1800s, which stamped in the popular look that we see today: domed heads, prominent eyes and short muzzles. A controversy developed during the early 1900s over the breed’s proper name and classification. The Kennel Club of England wanted to combine the Ruby, Blenheim, Prince Charles and King James varieties into a single breed called the “Toy Spaniel.” The Toy Spaniel Club, which oversaw these four varieties in England at that time, objected. The dispute was resolved when King Edward VII made it known that he wanted to call the breed the “King Charles Spaniel.” By 1904, even the American Kennel Club followed suit and combined all four varieties into one. However, the AKC called the breed the “English Toy Spaniel” and recognized it in its registry in 1886. Some fanciers of these small spaniels preferred the original, larger, longer-muzzled type. They split off and eventually developed the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which is close but certainly not identical to its English Toy Spaniel cousin.
The English Toy Spaniel is a moderately healthy breed with an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include cataracts, glaucoma, distichia, retinal dysplasia, hyaloid artery remnant disorder, hydrocephalus, open fontanelles, umbilical hernias, ear infections, mitral valve disease, congestive heart failure, patellar luxation, patent ductus arteriosus, vertebral disc disease and “hanging tongue.” Charlies tend to have fused toes, which is not a cause for concern in this breed.