The earliest recorded mention of the French spaniel was in the fourteenth century courtesy of Gaston II of Foix-Bearn in The Master of Game. However, this breed has been thought to have emerged around the eleventh century during the Crusades.
This bird dog was valued for its retrieving and setting abilities. It later became popular amongst the French and Russian nobility as it also proved to be an affable companion.
Later, the French spaniel branched out into a variety of types. It then underwent a process of selection and refinement and later became a well-established breed. Then, in the mid-1800s, it became a parent breed for the Brittany spaniel. In the late 1800s, James de Connick set up the first breed standard for this dog.
Despite being a parent breed to other spaniels, the French spaniel’s popularity waned at the start of the twentieth century. The advent of foreign gun dogs was one major culprit. The breed’s numbers fell so low, it nearly became extinct. What kept it from dying out were the efforts of Father Fournier, a French priest. He took in the remaining canines in his kennels and developed them further. The contemporary versions of the breed are of the lineages under Father Fournier’s care.
The French spaniel later began to be known in other countries after it was introduced in the 1970s in Canada. Today, it is acknowledged by the American Kennel Club and the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. However, it is not yet recognised by The Kennel Club. As such, and also due to its late introduction to foreign shores, there are very few French spaniels in the UK.