There are several versions of Barbet history so I will provide a few links for you to read and make up your own mind. http://www.barbet.org.uk/history.htm and http://frenchwaterdog.org/category/historical-references/
The history below is from The Barbet: a French National treasure: http://bbfrenchtreasure.free.fr
The story of the Barbet is long and impressive. References to the breed are throughout history, doing various jobs, with various historical lineage, always referenced with respect and admiration. After so many centuries of serving man in so many capacities, the Barbet is not a common nor well known breed. A victim of the changes of the history he helped shape, the Barbet was nearly extinct after both the Great War (WWI) and WWII. Through the efforts of a very devoted few, this old breed is slowly being reborn as a dog for the future.
The Barbet is a French water dog and the breed’s name “Barbet” comes from the French word barbe, which means beard. It has been said that the French Royals have been hunting with Barbet for all time. The Barbet has also worked as sailor’s assistants, much like the Portuguese Water Dog.
The first certain reference to the breed occurs in the fourteenth century when a gascon count speaks of them in a book written in 1387.
The earliest attempt at categorizing the Barbet was in 1570 with De Canibus Britannicus. Originally written in latin by Dr Johannes Caius who was Queen Elizabeth’s doctor. Translated to English in 1576, a group of dogs for hunting and fowling called Aucupatorii were: setter, waterdog and water spaniel.
Sixteenth-century cynologist Fouilloux dubbed him the Barbet, from barbe, a French designation for beard; his pseudonym, laineux., translates into woolly.
This breed has contributed to the French language “être crotté comme un Barbet”—to be very, very muddy. Perhaps it is their impishness that entices them to muddy, swampy places, giving them the nickname of “Mud Dog.”
Henry IV of France (1553-1610); king of France (1589-1610) was enthusiastic about all sorts of hunting, and he enjoyed waterfowling with his Barbet.
In 1587, Henry IV’s mistress, Corisande, was reproached by Monsieur de Bellieure Chancellor to Marie de Medici, for attending church in the company of “a fool, a monkey and a Barbet”. Though his comments had political overtones the mention of the Barbet has it’s own significance. We see the Barbet was a hunting dog with a difference.
In the early 1700’s, François-Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire, the french philosopher was quoted as saying “The Barbet is man’s best friend….”
Charles Diguet’s La Chasse au Marais (Paris: E.Dentu, 1889), p. 230. shows the water spaniel in full form. He observes that Water Spaniels are courageous, fast, indifferent to icy water where they’re happy to stay for hours, possess a keen natural retrieve; their sole fault is they’re a bit hard-mouthed.
A second name for the Barbet was: Griffon d’arrêt à Poil Laineux (wooly- haired pointer) as mentionned in the Larousse Universel (1922); Littré’s dictionary (1878 edition) which still exists and still mentions the Barbet, and La Sauvagine, Feb. 1995.
References abound as far to the Barbet’s intelligence, and fearlessness of very cold water. The only member in the water dog family to point, the Barbet was used for waterfowl hunting to such a degree that a saying of the day was “Muddy as a Barbet”, referring to the dogs appearance after hunting in the marshes. However, from the beginning this specially bred dog exhibited a loyalty and friendliness that made him a companion dog of choice. Nevertheless, the Barbet is rated as the number Four “Agility Dog” in France, just ahead of the Tervueren, one of four varieties of Belgian Shepherd Dogs.
The Barbet has been used in breeding several breeds, for example the Briard and the Newfoundland. But although the Barbet has been used in breeding other breeds, the Barbet itself almost died out. Before World War II there were two Barbet breeders in France and to these breeders’ knowledge there were not any other breeders. One of the breeders was Doctor Vincenti. After World War II there were only a few Barbets left and more than 20 years later breeding of the Barbet was started again. It was the daughter of Dr. Vincenti, Madame Petre, who started breeding Barbet again on the basis of the Barbet that she could find and which were descendants of Barbet bred by her father.
Today, the Barbet, although rare and in still endangered, continues to delight and amaze people around with world with it’s agility, propensity to water and its versatile field and water abilities. With such an extensive historical lineage, the Barbet is a timeless and classic breed of canine.
In summary, the Barbet is an integral part of dog history, and many familiar breeds have Barbet in their ancestry. Depending on geography and necessity, the Barbet connected through the centuries in various capacities, and as a companion dog.
The versatile nature of the Barbet has meant its survival, and today’s Barbet still has the assets attributed to it from the past.
If you are interested in a full and extensive English/French history of the Barbet, please have a look at the The Barbet: a French National treasure.
If you have additional references, historical documentation, photos, or Barbet news please email me as I’ll happily add and amend the history page.