There are three distinct Setter breeds, and the English one is not only the oldest of the three but one of the oldest hunting dog breeds. English Setter history goes back at least to the 14th century. These dogs were originally called "setting dogges" for the way that they set themselves in a crouch as they pointed out fowl to hunters. It is widely believed that they were produced by crossing English Springer Spaniels, Spanish Pointers, and large Water Spaniels.
They were first written about in a 1576 book, Of English Dogs, by Johannes Caius. It is the earliest known publication about dog breeds. Around this time, the other two Setter breeds were produced: the Gordon (in Scotland) and the Irish Setter. There are also records of the English Setter found in art works that depicted setting dogges at work.
In 1825, Edward Maverick started breeding the English setting dogges, and the breed's development took a huge leap forward. He named the breed English Setter and produced a variation called the Laverack Setter. They are the English Setter types often seen in dog shows.
Toward the end of Laverack 's breeding career, Purcell Llewellin acquired what he felt were the best specimens of Laveracks. With this bloodline that had been kept pure for 35 years, Llewellin crossed the Duke/Rhoebe bloodlines. These became known as Llewellin Setters, and they remain prized for their superiority in field trials. In the early 20th century, he exported this strain to the United States. The story of Llewellin setter history is widely known.
There were a number of American breeders of note, but perhaps the most notable was George Bird Evans. His estate, Old Hemlock, was the home to a decades-long training, observation and breeding business. An illustrator by trade who loved to hunt, Evans' English Setters and his books about them are said to be excellent.