Papillon History

Papillons have an illustrious history, and their companionship was highly prized among European royalty as early as the 14th Century.   Once known as the Dwarf Spaniel, Royal Toy Spaniel, Continental Toy Spaniel, Epagneul Nain, Little Squirrel Dog and Belgian Toy Spaniel, the Papillon’s country of origin is uncertain.  Most historians agree that France, Belgium, Italy and Spain all probably played significant roles in the development of the modern Papillon...

Theories abound regarding the ancestry of the breed, perhaps the most likely being that the Papillon is the lineal descendant of an extinct small breed, an Italian toy spaniel; we can only observe that from around the late 13th Century School of Italian Art a breed closely resembling the Papillon appears in numerous paintings, frescoes and tapestries.   Perhaps the best and most pleasing way to watch the development of the Papillon through history is by studying the paintings of old Masters.  Titian’s “the Venus of Urbino” (1477-1576),  Velazquez’ “Prince Phillip Prosper” (1598-1660),  de Jonghe’s “Portrait of a Boy” (1616-1679),  and Murillo’s “Holy Family at Prajirata” (1618-1682), together with others by Giotto (1267-1337), Rubens (1577-1640), Boucher (1708-1770), all contained references to what can only be described as Papillon-like little dogs. Watteau (1684-1721) and Fragonard (1732-1806) frequently depicted the beautiful Toy Spaniel in their paintings. 

Women of royalty or high birth often wouldn’t consider their portraits complete unless they held a Toy Spaniel on their laps.

Marie Antoinette was devoted to her two Papillons, and it is said she took one of them with her to the guillotine, handing it to the executioner just before she was beheaded.

King Henry III, who ruled France from 1560-1574, supposedly appeared before his council of state wearing a basket filled with Papillons around his neck and always slept with his favourite dogs.  Other celebrity Papillon owners were King Louis XIV and Madame Pompadour.

As to the names – Papillon (butterfly) and Phalene (moth) – natural and obvious descriptors of these tiny spaniels with their large butterfly-angled or down-drooping ears and general lively demeanour – their great popularity at the Courts of Versailles almost certainly brought them into being.

During the latter 18th and the 19th centuries there appears to be little documented about the breed.  The Papillon was introduced to England in the very early years of the 20th century, with the Kennel Club registration in 1906.  It took until 1923 for the first importation of note to arrive: Ysette de la Foret, who whelped a black/white dog in quarantine.  He went on to become ‘Peterkins’, a Phalene, who had the honour of becoming the first British drop-eared Champion.  This is significant, because at that time there were as many if not more Phalenes than Papillons.  By 1924 there were 64 registrations so the breed qualified for separate classification in the Kennel Club registers and were granted Challenge Certificates.

In the UK, USA and Australasia the two variants are registered and shown together, but classified as separate breeds in FCI countries.


The Papillon made its first appearance in Australia in 1949 when Mrs. Alice Jacobson of Mitcham, Vic., imported the red/white male Corleon of Otter and the female Monamie Berenice (r/w), followed shortly thereafter by the male Jasper of Confryn (r/w) and the tricolour female Cresta of Harleymeads.  There was little fanfare accorded to these early ambassadors, however Bunteen Mimi (Corleon x Berenice) became the first recorded Australian-bred Champion, in 1952.   In 1954, Mrs Jacobson gave as a christening gift to Neil and Mina Thorne-Clarke’s twin sons, a red/white bitch Bunteen Mei Mei.  History records that they were a little doubtful about accepting this newcomer into their Pekingese kennel, but, soon won over, they went on, under the Tres Chic prefix, to establish the first Papillon kennel in NSW.

Over the next decade many enthusiastic breeders began to promote the Papillon and in the early 1960’s the arrival from the UK of Mrs Molly Burton and her “Summercourt” Papillons and Poodles had a huge influence on the breed.  Mrs Burton was also instrumental in founding the Papillon (Dog) Club of NSW in 1966.  Their first Championship Show in 1967 was won by Mrs Burton’s Ch Rosmean Henri. 

In 1976 the Papillon Club of Victoria was formed, holding their first Championship show in 1977 where BIS was Ch Clochette Champagne.

The mid-seventies saw Christa Te Laac import the lovely red-sable/white dog, English Ch Thingden Rieisling.  Beautifully coated and most glamorous, he was surely ‘a dog before his time’.  His great influence on the breed included producing 23 champions, among them the Clochette ‘Wine’ litter of Champagne, Claret and Chablis, all champions of note.

Around this time Papillons began to make their presence felt in the obedience arena and in 1973/4 Sharon McFarlane campaigned Ch Karo Black Magic to CDX status making him Australia’s highest awarded Papillon for many years.  She also established her well-known Mondelise kennel at this time.

The first All Breeds BIS winner was Mrs G and Miss F Sheppard’s home bred Ch Jacaith Marguerite in 1976, and the breed’s first Australian Grand Champion was Gr Ch Triomphe Ms Minerva, bred by Robyn Young and owned by John and June Morice.

Papillons in this country over the years have, and continue to; benefit from the varied gene pool provided by the number of well-bred and performed dogs and bitches imported from all over the world.

There are now many Grand Champions and the steadily increasing number of BIS and BIG wins reflect the high quality of the breed throughout Australia today.

** Extract from the unofficial 'Extended Breed Standard of THE PAPILLON' produced by Julie Dickenson Franks, John Morice & Lynn Buttler 2009' **

Contact Details

The Secretary
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Email : [email protected]