Concerning Abatements, Letter from Dunamace Strongarm of Eaton, Nord-Draco Herald-Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary, Royal College of Heralds
A heraldic abatement is a modification to the achievement of a family or individual to denote disgrace, dishonourable deeds and behaviour, and treason.
In some cases an achievement may be daubed with a stain, such as a purple mark in the case of House Plantagenet, or the arms may only be viewed inverted.
The peculiar abatement of the Order of the Round Table was, as we can observe from the heraldic designs we have prepared for you, a bend, dexter, sable, surmounted by a lance, gules. Or, as it was commonly known, the Red Lance of Treachery.
Though we have been unable to discover its exact origins, the Red Lance of Treachery is first mentioned in reports surrounding the revolt of the Queen’s Champion. Those knights and courtiers who were implicit in the kidnap of Queen Guinevere, and the flight of the Champion, were forever marked with dishonour by having their achievements vandalised with the black bend and the Red Lance. You’ll notice I’m sure that as an abatement the heralds have used the lance, a lot.
Our deductions suggest that the practice was inspired by the death of Sir Agravain; note that on his achievement a red lance is visible on the chief, above a red hand as the main charge. The histories tell us that Sir Agravain was the first to fall to the Champion’s revolt, having barred the way when the Champion and Queen Guinevere fled Camelot. The arms are suggested to have been recoloured posthumously, leading us to believe that the red lance here, and the red hand, indicate the blood Sir Agravain shed in waylaying the Queen’s Champion. Thus, we believe, that from this the Red Lance of Treachery came into being as an abatement.
This practice of using the Red Lance as an abatement appears to have been carried over during Sir Mordred’s uprising against his uncle, the High King.
Interestingly, other armorial affectations we have discovered is that the inclusion of three ravens in an achievement appears to denote a personal award of service bestowed by the Lady Morgana. This is categorically not an abatement, although some of the knights who received this award were marked with the Red Lance later, having taken up Sir Mordred’s cause.
Of particular note are the arms of Sir Galahad; his achievement bears the soaring, golden falcon of his father’s house, overlaid with the Red Lance of Treachery. We do not believe that the Queen’s Champion used his family arms as his personal achievement – indeed we can, to the surprise of none, find no record of the arms of the Champion. Although Sir Galahad disinherited himself from House Falco, and became adopted into House Corvidae, he continued to use his traditional arms. It is believed that he bore the Red Lance of Treachery as a mark of penance, to attempt to atone for the great treason of his father.
House Falco, and the successor house, House Falcon, either by order or by choice, altered their achievement to display azure, a falcon, displayed, affronte, wings elevated, on a field sable. Presumable also as a mark of penance.
If you, or any member of the court, require any advice or explanation of any other element of heraldic lore, we at the Royal College of Heraldry are bound, and honoured, to serve.
Yours, In faith and in service to the King, Dunamace Strongarm of Eaton, Nord-Draco Herald-Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary, Royal College of Heralds