Horel, Howel, Howell, Ohel
King of Brittany or Nantes. He was an ally of Arthur, who was either his uncle or cousin. In Welsh legend, his father is named Emhyr, but Geoffrey of Monmouth calls him the son of Budec. In some of the Tristan romances, he is Tristan’s father-in-law. Welsh legend names him as one of Arthur’s Three Royal Knights of the Island of Britain, and says that he was handsome, wise, and skilled at arms.
In Arthur’s early days as king, Hoel assisted his kinsman against the Saxon invaders led by Colgrim. Hoel became sick during the campaign, and Arthur was forced to leave him in the city of Dumbarton. While Arthur was defeating the Saxons in Bath, Picts and Scots attacked Dumbarton, and Hoel had to weakly hold them off. Eventually, Arthur returned and rescued Hoel from defeat. Hoel, in turn, helped Arthur win the war against the Scots at Lake Lomond. During the campaign against Gaul, Hoel accompanied Arthur and, with a division of soldiers, conquered much of the region, including Aquitaine and Gascony.
Hoel also pledged himself and a force of soldiers to Arthur at the beginning of the campaign against Rome. Before they embarked, however, they received word that Hoel’s niece Helen (or, in Malory, his wife – the Duchess of Brittany) had been carried off by the Giant of Mont Saint Michel. Arthur and his knights attacked and killed the giant, but were too late to save the woman’s life. (In the Vulgate Merlin, the Helen’s uncle is Lionel of Nanteuil; and in the Norse Tristram’s Saga, the character is called Orsl.)
Despite the loss, Hoel went with Arthur to Rome and proved one of the best warriors Arthur had, leading a battalion of soldiers at Soissons. In Geoffrey’s account, Arthur sends Hoel on to conquer Rome while Arthur returns to Britain to deal with Mordred’s insurrection.
In the Prose Tristan, Hoel becomes the father of Isolde of the White Hands, Kahedins, and Ruvalen (replacing Havelin or Jovelin from earlier texts). Another (unnamed) daughter married King Meliadus of Lyonesse and became Tristan’s step-mother. Tristan came to Hoel’s court and ended up saving Hoel from a tyrannical neighbor named Agrippe. In return, Hoel married Tristan to Isolde of the White Hands.
Hoel | The Legend of King Arthur
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Triads of the Island of Britain (Welsh ”Triads”) | 11th century to 14th century
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
Breudwyt Rhonabwy | 13th century
Geraint and Enid | 13th century
Les Prophecies de Merlin | Richart d’Irlande, 1272-1279
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470