An important foundation breed and a valued early gun dog breed, the English Water Spaniel received plenty of notice beginning in the 15th century. Sources as diverse as the daily diaries of the treasury of the Kings of England, Shakespeare's plays, chronicles of sea exploration, and journals of food gathering mention the water spaniel.
Water spaniels were likely different in various parts of the world and even various areas within one country but it is clear water spaniels/dogs were valued in many, many countries. Their value was not only in retrieving waterfowl in rivers and ponds not accessible to the hunter but also for retrieving fish, ship ropes and the occasional man overboard!
Perhaps no dog would be more of a suitable companion for long journeys by sailing ship than these early water spaniels. Travels took them to new worlds like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the USA and South American countries, and to places where countries were trying to establish colonies. British records indicate efforts to curry favor with various local chieftains and governors in India, China, and numerous places in the Far and Middle easts frequently included the gift of various dog breeds, including the water spaniel. By the mid 1500's, types of water spaniels were spread around the world--including the pudel of Germany, the Barbet of France, the Cão de Água (Portuguese Water Dog), and the Logatto Romangnolo of Italy. Of these, the Portuguese Water Dog is proven to be of very ancient lineage with descriptions dating back to 1292.
More About the English Water Spaniel
From Robert Leighton's BOOK OF THE DOG:
The English Water Spaniel. In the Kennel Club's Register of Breeds no place is allotted to this variety all Water Spaniels other than Irish being classed together. Despite this absence of official recognition, a breed of Spaniels, legitimately entitled to the designation of English Water Spaniels, has been in existence for many years--in all probability a descendant of the old Water Dogge, an animal closely resembling the French Barbet, the ancestor of the modern Poodle They were even trimmed at times much in the same way as a Poodle is nowadays as Markham gives precise directions for "The cutting or shearing him from the nauill downeward or backeward." The opinion expressed by the writer of The Sportsman's Cabinet 1803 is that the breed originated from a cross between the large Water dog and the Springing Spaniel and this is probably correct though Youatt, a notable authority, thinks that the cross was with an English Setter. Possibly some strains may have been established in this way not differing very much in make and shape from those obtained from the cross with the Spaniel. In general appearance the dog resembles somewhat closely the Springer except that he may be higher on the leg and that his coat should consist of crisp tight curls almost like Astrakhan fur everywhere except on his face where it should be short. There should be no topknot like that of the Irish Water Spaniel.
The English Water Spaniel is a strong and thick-set dog, considerably smaller than the average setter, and weighing from thirty to forty pounds. The prevailing color is liver, or liver and white. The coat should be very curly, in texture similar to that of the black curly-coated retriever; the curls should be tight and close, not open or woolly. The ears are very large and long, heavily feathered. The head is long, handsome, wise, and carried lightly and gracefully. The hair clothing the face and head is short and smooth, but immediately behind the "poll" it becomes long and curly like the body-coat. The neck is moderately long, and strongly joined to powerful shoulders. The legs are of medium length, considerably longer than those of the field spaniel, but shorter and thicker proportionately than a setter's, straight in front, and furnished with abundance of bone and muscle; hind=quarters muscular, with well-turned thighs and hocks. The feet should be of good size, with strong, horny soles, and the tail carried in a gentle curve.
--Frrom THE CENTURY ILLUSTRATED, 1880 (Editor's Note: The word "Poll" in this description refers to the head of the dog.)