Seal of Hugh Despenser the Younger

From Inquiries into the Origin and Process of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dallaway, p446

1292

Blazon: Per quarterly I and IV argent a bend sable, II and III gules a fret or

The arms are also shown on Despenser’s shield and the trappings of his horse on the front side of the seal. Despenser the Younger is also one of the few historical examples of abatement for treachery. He was executed in 1326 for defending the extremely unpopular Edward II from Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer’s invasion, and his arms appear in the Banqueting Hall of Cardiff Castle upside down, though it is not clear whether this was as per decree of the Heralds’ College or a statement of distaste by the builder or patron.

 

In case of treason, the escocheon was totally reversed.

-From Inquiries into the Process and Origin of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dalloway, p101

I would like to note that the reversal to which Dalloway refers was temporary; the traitor’s arms would be borne upside down during his procession to the place of execution. The rest of the traitor’s family, if innocent, seems to have retained the right to bear their arms untainted.

Abatements were usually confined to military offences, such as killing prisoners during capitulation, revoking a challenge, or flying colours; and even for slighter faults, such as intemperate boasting, or criminal neglect of discipline.

-From Inquiries into the Origin and Process of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dalloway, p100

From The Grammar of Heraldry by Samuel Kent, p17-19

Kent’s text names nine abatements, eight of which are shown above. Below are the names and descriptions of each:

“He beareth Argent, a Delfe, Tenne: This is due to him that revoketh his Challenge, or eateth his words.

“He beareth Or, and Escocheon reversed, Sanguine; This is given to him that discourteously useth a Maid or Widow, against her will, or flies from his Sovreign’s Banner.

He beareth Argent, a Point dexter parted: Given to a meer Braggadochio.

He beareth Or, a Point in Point, Sanguine: Which is due to one that does not demean himself well in Fight.

He beareth Or, a Point Champaigne, Tenne. A Diminution due to one that kills his Prisoner.

He beareth Or, a Plain Point, Sanguine. The Mark of a Tale-Bearer and Liar.

He beareth Argent, a Gore sinister, Tenne. The Reward of a Coward.

He beareth Argent, two Gussets, Sanguine. In Abatement there can be but one Gusset; and he that is given to Lust shall wear it on the right Side, a Drunkard on the left. But two Gussets together do not imply a Disgrace…

The last (and worst) kind of Abatement, is call’d Reversing, and that is, when the whole Escocheon is turned upside down, contrary to the usual form of bearing: This is never given but to the finish’d Traitor.”

(I should note that there is no historical or heraldic evidence that any of these charges were ever practically used as abatements. The last mentioned was part of the execution of a traitor; his arms would be borne upside down on his way to the place of execution. It was a high disgrace, but one that never lasted for more than a few hours.)