The Wycliffe Central Line

The Beginning

When Jean Lyle first became involved in showing purebred dogs, beginning with a Boxer bitch in 1948, she could never have imagined the impact her kennel would eventually have on the poodle world. She was a suburban housewife in the Vancouver B.C. area, and even at its peak, her kennel was small in comparison with some of the great English and American kennels.

Perhaps in part because her Boxer was not a great success in conformation, Jean's interest turned to obedience training. At that point it was almost inevitable that she would become involved with Poodles, as the rules for obedience trials in North America were based on work with Poodles (see Obedience Dogs).

"There were no obedience classes here at the time (so) I had to do it from a book, and Blanche Saunders' book was the one I used. When I found out that she was judging a series of shows in Eastern Washington in May, 1952, I wrote to her and asked if she would like to come on to Vancouver and show us how to run an obedience class. She agreed and when she came, my husband started thinking that maybe we should get a Standard Poodle. Blanche said that she could supply us with one."

(Jean Lyle's comments from a Poodle Variety interview published in 1979)

That puppy was Carillon Michelle. "Mike" was a compact bitch, "with an excellent wiry coat (and) a body full of sturdy substance", according to Jean. She also showed typical Poodle intelligence and independence, and loved to swim and retrieve.

"I got a U.D.T. on this bitch, and since (I) had decided to show the conformation people, simultaneously I finished this bitch's American and Canadian championship."

The Wycliffe Founders

The dogs owned or bred by Jean Lyle are shown in black, others in blue. Though additional dogs were involved in the early litters, as described below, none make a contribution to the central line.

The Early Litters

Jean Lyle decided that she wanted to breed a good black Standard with a refined look and dignity. She sought advice from those she admired, and read the best books on breeding dogs. I have no doubt that she started out with good intentions. Unfortunately, in the fifties, the "best" reference with respect to breeding dogs were based on overly simplistic genetic models and an inadequate understanding of the consequences of inbreeding.

"I had read enough books to know that the only sensible way to breed was to line breed or inbreed and we were fortunate enough to have a closely related dog (Petitcote Domino) in the area. He was a very stylish dog and that breeding was hung with horse shoes, as from that very first litter we got what I feel was one of the very finest Standard Poodles ever, Int. Ch. Wycliffe Jacqueline, U.D.T. "

This was in 1954, and produced Wycliffe Michelle as well as Jacqueline. Jean repeated the mating the next two years. The 1955 litter included Eliza Jane and two other champions.

In Sept. 1955, Jean bred Wycliffe Michelle to her half-brother (out of Domino) Wencair's Frere Jacques. Jacques' mother was High Meadow Babette, bred in Toronto from English imports. Babette' dam was a cream, as was Domino's sire, so it should have come as no surprise that the litter included cream (Coco) or white (Fabulous Fabian) pups. In 1956 she bred the year-old Coco to Eliza Jane (see below) to produce Kirk (and others). However, Jean then decided to concentrate on blacks, and sold all the non-black Poodles she had bred.

Altogether, Jean created one primary male line and 5 female lines:

The "T" Litter of 1959

In 1959, Blanche Saunders suggested that instead of using Dilemma again, she "should use another young dog in the East (Annsown Gay Knight of Arhill) because she had just bred to the dog, and was delighted with her puppies." So she bred Jacqueline to Gay Knight and got a litter of 8 that included 6 champions (Thomas, Timothy, Theodore, Talk of the Town, Theresa and Twinkling Tiara). This litter changed the course of the breed.

"We had several problems to deal with in those days. Number one, our dogs were too small and I wanted a big dog. Thomas was the biggest in the litter. Number two were light and round eyes. Although Timothy had a prettier head than Thomas, he still had the lighter, rounder eye while Thomas had a better shaped, darker eye. So it was on the strength of the size and the eye color and shape that I decided to keep Thomas. Fortunately, Timmy was sold to people in Bellingham which is only 60 miles away, so I was able to use him also."

From 1960-63 she alternated between Thomas and Timothy, using a variety of females, in what appears to have been an attempt to decide which was better. After that, she stuck with Tommy up till his death.

"(Tommy's) puppies usually had sweet personalities, size, heavy coats, beautiful eyes, always good feet and they were impressive. They were eye catching, balanced, and very dignified. You couldn't ignore them. Through his sire Gay Knight, Tommy got size and color, and he got his beautiful conformation from his mother, Jacqueline. He was a very good mover, but he sometimes produced dogs that shuffled their back feet, they didn't pick their feet up and you could hear them when they moved around the ring."

Onstott, and many breeders of the day, said that inbreeding was the way to go - so that was the way Jean Lyle went - and she did not do it half-heartedly. Father-daughter crosses followed father-daughter or mother-son in an almost unbroken succession.

"Thomas had this one fault, and that was his belief that you simply didn't do 'those things' with your mother! Timothy didn't seem to have nearly as much respect! So we got Virgil, Veni Vidi Vici, and a bitch called Veronica who was acquired by Dr. Kingsley in New York state. Veronica was later bred to Ch. Carillon Dilemma and that's where Bud Dickey's (Dassin) first bitch came from, Ch. Annveron Bacardi Peach. Thomas lived with us until 1967 when (he) died as a result of the Leptospirosis that he had contracted while in New York seven years earlier."

"There were some beautiful bitches in the litter also, but these went to the usual, run-of-the mill fanciers who bred the bitches well but never really developed a line around them. It could have been done, but it wasn't."

I suppose that's technically true, but Theresa and Twinkling Tiara did make a significant contribution to Haus Brau, and thus to Executive and Country Gentleman and their many descendants.

Starting in early 1960, when he was not yet a year old, she began systematically breeding Thomas to all the female lines:

Now to this point, I can't really fault her strategy. Judging from her successes, she chose her founders well. Though they are not unrelated, the inbreeding was not exceptionally high. She tried out Tommy with each of the female lines, eventually settling on the last two as the most promising. (Though she gave Nicola to Joy Tongue (Acadia) as a puppy, as usual she kept her options open, and kept Victoria from the subsequent mating to Tommy.)

The real fun began in 1962 and continued until 1966. Tommy didn't have any reservations about mating with his daughters, and was mated to each. He was mated to both Yolanda and Zara three times.

The most significant, in terms of continuation of the lines, were to Yolanda, producing Calypso (1962) and Ian (1963), and to Zara, producing Kenneth (1963) and Rowena (1965). Rowena went to the Campbells (Blacknight; now Dhubhne) to join Ian's son, Martin, born the previous year. Ian went to June Hobbs in Washington State.  

Thomas sired 67 champions, ranking him high on the list of top-producing males. His mother, Jacqueline ended as one of the all-time top producing Standard bitches with 21 champions (17 of them AKC champions) from 41 pups in 5 litters.

Kenneth and Ian

Both Ian and Kenneth played important roles in the continuation of the Wycliffe lines. Though Jean Lyle doesn't mention Ian by name in the PV interview, I am reasonably certain that she is describing him when she says:

"There was one dog I bred that was a nice dog, but I sold him to an obedience home because his temperament really called for training. Physically, he was a dog with a very over angulated rear and he didn't have shoulder angulation to match. He did have a gorgeous head. His head was probably one of the very best I ever bred, but I didn't feel that he was worth using simply for his head. Well, several people in the Northwest latched onto this dog and just thought he was super!"

  Though Ian sired only a single "Wycliffe" litter, in 1964, from his aunt Theresa, this litter of seven (the M2 litter) included five champions, of which Martin and Murdoch were the most influential. He was also used by Kathleen Baker (Chantilly) in 1965 and Arlene Brown (Haus Brau) in 1966.

The second female line, that started with Little Lulu, was continued by Zandra (1966), a daughter of Martin and Rowena.

John Campbell has described Rowena as "our very worst counter-sweep. (We) always had to keep the counters clear of goodies or she would up and on and have them before one knew it. Martin was a lazy 'bring it to me' couch potato." Martin was smaller and, in John's view, more refined than his cousin. Rowena was also stubborn, and resisted handler Frank Sabella's attempts to finish her championship.

The Campbells bred Rowena again in 1967 (to Wycliffe Xavier) and '68 (to Martin) producing five Blacknight champions - Jason, Jeremiah, Jennifer, Sabrina and Samantha, and Ch. Teller's Bethany. (Xavier, a son of Timothy and Jacqueline, was owned by Frank Dale.)

Jean Lyle kept Kenneth, and he sired 15 Wycliffe litters over a five-year period. His first litter was from his half-sister Calypso, giving us the second "S" litter (1965), which included Sybil. Sybil, and their daughter Genevieve (1968), continue the female line that started with Mitzi.

"I think Kenneth was probably the better looking dog but people were so enamored by the reputation of Thomas that they didn't use Kenneth perhaps as much as they should have. I used him extensively myself and was pleased with the results. They were about the same height, the same general type of dog and they both had the same great temperament. Kenneth had a little more sweep to his rear, but he used it beautifully and didn't shuffle at all."

Kenneth to Fitzherbert

For Jean Lyle, mating Zandra with her cousin Kenneth was almost an outcross, but she obviously liked what she got as she repeated the combination 3 times - in July '69, March '70 and Oct. '70 (producing 7 champions). From the perspective of continuing the lines, the last (which also appears to be Kenneth's last) was the most significant, for it produced Thomas Too, to continue the male line, and Titania, to continue the second female line.

The second Tommy started a brief carrier as a stud when he was only 10 months old and by the end of 1972 had been bred to four different bitches. Then he "disappeared" for 9 years, before being used, apparently one last time, in 1981. In the interview with Poodle Variety, Jean relates why she did not keep any of the males between Kenneth and Fitzherbert, born in 1974.

"There was a time after Kenneth died that I was not quite as pleased with the dogs being produced as I had been with the previous ones. For instance, there's Thomas Too, who is still alive although he doesn't live with me. He is a very virile, masculine, stallion type of dog, but he lacks some of the refinement of my other dogs. I think that it's vital that a male be masculine and strong, but we can carry this a little too far for great success in the breed ring. It may be wonderful for a breeding program, but when using a dog like this, you have to be very careful that the bitches be ultra-feminine."

The very first of these litters was from Genevieve, and produced Xcellente...

"A very in-bred dog that is lovely and a great producer. He is also a tremendous gentleman."

Xcellente went to Glenna Carlson's Ascot kennel in Wisconsin. There, he had a career that produced 28 champions between 1973 and 1980. Xcellente was "borrowed" by Jean in 1974 to sire the litter, from his mother, Genevieve, that produced Fitzherbert. Fitzherbert became her new favorite.

"Fitzherbert looks so much like Kenneth that it's uncanny. In fact, I won't have Fitzherbert's portrait taken because, why bother? I have Kenneth's and they look exactly alike."
Fitzherbert enjoyed a steady stream of Wycliffe and other bitches in a career that lasted from 1975 to 1983. Of course Jean couldn't resist, and bred him to his mother/grandmother (yes, Genevieve) in 1976 - to give us the incomparable Lord Lysander. However, she sold Lysander, apparently without using him, and continued to use Fitzherbert.  
Despite the profound influence of Genevieve on the male line, she appears not to have produced a significant daughter, which effectively ends that female line. However, in a litter just before Lysander's, she mated Fitzherbert with great aunt Titania (sister of Thomas Too) and finally succeeded in getting another bitch she was satisfied with, Joyous Jacqueline.

"Although she is bigger, a little, tiny bit more extreme and a better color, although not perfect, she is very much like the original Jacqueline. She moves just like they should. She moves naturally and proudly and sets herself up right and you see her striking all of these beautiful poses, because this is the way she is put together - right! She is also very animated and a very devoted dog."

I'm sure by now you all know what to expect next... and you're right, she mated Fitzherbert to his daughter. The surprise was that Jacqueline wasn't used until she was 4, but she was bred to Fitzherbert 3 times. The results, however, were apparently not satisfactory.

Looking for a New Heir

What to do? Fall back to Plan B and call out the reserves - the reserves being the many Wycliffe-bred animals now in the hands of other owners around the world. Fitzherbert was bred to such luminaries as Proud Poll, Red Rose, Polly Perkins, Karla of Seabonay and Anlon Anabel Alexis. These litters were not disasters, and these names turn up in various pedigrees of current champions, but they did not give Jean Lyle quite what she was looking for.

Fortunately, plan B had a complementary plan C - mate Jacqueline to the other males of the central line (the ones she had not kept). Thus, at 10 1/2 years, Thomas Too was brought out of retirement. The second Tommy and second Jacqueline produced Fern, who continued the second female line.

Then, 6 years after his birth, she made a call to the owner of Lysander. Margaret Tauzin relates:


"Jean Lyle once told me that the reason she drove Jacqueline to be bred to Lord Lysander is that he had never bloated and the owner never took any precautions against bloat, either. She felt him 'safe' to breed to in an attempt to decrease the amount of bloat problems she had been having."

The strategy appears to have succeeded. Son Michael, born Aug. 1982, inherited the throne (or should we say "the royal bedchamber") from grandfather Fitzherbert when about a year old and continued in that role until he was 10. His very first litter was with half-sister Fern to produce Wescott Quintessence, who was later bred back to Michael in 1987, 88 and 89.  

The Michael Years

Between 1983 and 1992, Michael sired 27 Wycliffe litters. The most significant are:

  • The Fern/Quintessence litters. The best known of these is the 1988 "H" litter from Quintessence that produced 2 champions, Herald, who went to Dr. John Slaton (Ele Gal Standards), and Hither and Yon who went to Margaret Tauzin (Martaux). Together, they produced 20 champion offspring and, to date, have over champion grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Two litters (1983 and 1984) from Vivid Verbena should also be considered part of this group. Like Fern, her mother is Joyous Jacqueline, but her father is Fitzherbert (Fern's, you will recall, is Thomas Too). One AKC champion came from each litter, but neither has produced descendants. However, Wycliffe Sans Souci of Dymar, exported to Finland, became a Finnish champion and has several titled descendants.

Wycliffe Today

Jean Lyle died September 24, 1997. She will not be forgotten. Though Wycliffe was a Canadian kennel, she bred 144 AKC Standard champions (second only to Bel Tor's 145) and many others including Canadian, Australian, English and Scandinavian champions. There may be no Standard Poodle alive today that does contain at least some Wycliffe heritage.

Though the Wycliffe Kennel stopped breeding with Michael's death, several of his sons carry on the line.

Jean Lyle used to brag that her dogs were the most highly inbred of any breed. Though I do not share her faith in inbreeding, many of the sons and daughters of Michael are certainly highly inbred (60-70%) yet continue to be successfully bred and produce champions. Perhaps, through trial and error, and a measure of good luck, Jean Lyle succeeded in picking her way through the inbreeding minefield and in producing the closest thing, outside lab-bred mice and rats, to a pure line.

Naming of Wycliffe Litters

In the first Wycliffe litter (1954), there appears to be no system to the choice of names. However, starting in 1955, each litter was assigned a letter going through the alphabet sequentially. Mrs. Lyle made it through the alphabet almost 6 times. A few letters appear to be missing, and there are also a few litters that do not follow the pattern. The former may include some planned litters that did not materialize. The latter are primarily litters where only one parent was Wycliffe. Initially, the puppies from these litters were "Wycliffe Xtra", as in Wycliffe Xtra Fancy (Wycliffe Theodore x Pantaloon Britta). Later, both kennel names were often used, as in Wycliffe Rondell Sabrina (Wycliffe Fitzherbert x Rondell Foxy Lady).


Thanks to Lynn Brucker for loaning me the Poodle Variety article from which the quotes are taken, and for the use of her database, and to Margaret Tauzin and John Campbell for telling me about Hither, Rowena and Martin, thus adding some human depth to the story told by the pedigrees.

The 1998 Stud Issue of Poodle Variety features a tribute to Jean Lyle which includes a reprint of the 1979 interview and photographs of some of the dogs discussed above.

John B. Armstrong, 1997, 1998, 1999

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Last revision April 17, 1999