‘The third sort of dogs of the gentle kind is the spaniel gentle, or comforter, or (as the common term is) the fisting-hound, and those are called Melitei, of the Island Malta, from whence they were brought hither. These are little and pretty, proper and fine, and sought out far and near to satisfy the nice delicacy of dainty dames, and wanton women’s wills; instruments of folly to play and dally withal, in trifling away the treasure of time, to withdraw their minds from more commendable exercises, and to content their corrupt concupiscences with vain disport, a silly poor shift to shun their irksome idleness. These sybaritical puppies, the smaller they be (and thereto if they have an hole in the foreparts of their heads) the better they are accepted, the more pleasure also they provoke, as meet playfellows for mincing mistresses to bear in their bosoms, to keep company withal in their chambers, to succour with sleep in bed, and nourish with meat at board, to lie in their laps, and lick their lips, as they lie (like young Dianas) in their waggons and coaches.’
Description of England (2nd ed.), William Harrison , 1578
Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, 1665.