To the New World… Only two dogs are known to have sailed from England in the Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers to North America. A detailed account of the journey published in 1622, Mourt’s Relation, by Edward Winslow and William Bradford stated: ‘John Goodwin and Peter Brown having a great Mastiff bitch with them and a little Spaniel.’ Apart from the mastiff and the spaniel, no other dog appears in the account of the emigrants.
The word spaniel comes from the Latin hispaniolis, meaning Spanish, which in French became espaigneul, meaning‘Spanish dog’, acknowledging the dog’s historic connection to hunting in Spain, where it is believed to have originated. (Some take a different view and believe that the breed originated from China and was later introduced to Southern Europe).
Springer spaniels were so named because of their ability to ‘spring’ or ‘flush’ game birds into the air. That same skill – flushing out game – is sometimes known as ‘cocking’. Which may have been a factor in naming the breed now known as cocker spaniels. But these dogs also hunted wading birds and were highly regarded for their skill in hunting woodcocks, so this may also account for their name.
Spaniels were certainly known in England by the 1300s. Chaucer mentions one in The Canterbury Tales when he describes a plain woman searching for male company. ‘She hankers for every man she may see, for like a spaniel she will leap on him.’