Sunday, 6 September 2015
Portaloos and Puppies: Reflections on the Popularity of Spaniels
Yesterday I spent the day sitting in a field in the freezing cold, listening to various lectures on topics such as 'neuropathic pain' and 'cranial nerve examination'. This was part of my undertaking as a veterinarian to keep to date with developments in veterinary science. The event was called "Vet Festival" but what I had failed to appreciate before setting off was "Festival" was as in an outdoor music event rather than meaning a celebration. Hence the portaloos, tents, and me being desperately under-dressed in sandals!
However it was all worthwhile because the lectures were excellent and very practical. Also, the organizer, Noel Fitzpatrick, wanted to emphasize / rekindle a love for animals - which he very much did. This set me thinking about pet keeping over the centuries, and hence the topic for this week's blog post - a royal loves of spaniels!
The history linking England’s monarchs to spaniel breeds goes back centuries. In the 16th century Henry VIII decreed that only “some small spanyells for the ladies” would be allowed at court, and the spaniels were described as “smalle ladyes puppees”
Perhaps the king most associated with dogs was Charles II. He owned so many spaniels that his Gentleman of the Bedchamber, the Earl of Ailesbury [sic], used them as a metaphor for currying-favour, describing certain courtiers as: “Pliant as a spaniel dog.” The dogs Charles prefered are today known as King Charles Spaniels – a name which was never applied to them in their day. These dogs were much beloved of King Charles I – and folk lore has it that every dog across the land wept when at Charles I’s execution.
A subtly different strain of spaniel was favoured by Charles II – and became known as the ‘Cavalier’ King Charles Spaniel – a term synonymously linked to the Royalist cause and therefore potentially dangerous to own during the Civil War. With the eventual restoration of the monarch in 1660, in celebration the new king was said to award Cavalier spaniels the freedom of every inn in the land, that they were not to be denied access to any public place and they alone were allowed the freedom to roam the royal parks!
Indeed Samuel Pepys accompanied Charles aboard the Naseby, in 1660, on his return to England. He records the presence of a dog: “That the King loved, which sh*t in the boat, which made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are.”
In the 18th century and the Hanovarians now on the throne, spaniels were well established as part of court life, and regularly featured in portraits of royal children. Indeed, in the early 19th century the Prince Regent commissioned a portrait of his father, George III, with a spaniel at his feet and a statue of Charles II in the background. By 1841 it was estimated that five thousand spaniels were kept as pets in London alone, but it was to be over a hundred years later, in 1945 that the breed was first officially recognised as Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
In the early 18th century, the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, kept red and white coloured King Charles spaniels, which he records as trotting alongside his horse. His estate was named Blenheim, after the Battle of Blenheim, and as a patron of the red and white spaniel, this colour variety of King Charles and Cavalier King Charles became called Blenheim.
Now of course spaniels are much loved companions for all dogs lovers, although their popularity has meant in-breeding has produced conditions such as Chiari-like malformation, syringomyelia and a propensity to heart disease, which are excrutiatingly painful (the former - as show in the lectures yesterday) and heart-breaking (the later.) Hence sometimes being popular is not always a good thing.