Ryons of Ireland

Rience, Rion, Rions, Ryon
Roi de Danemarche et d’Yrlande, d’Ierlande, des Illes

King of DenmarkNorgalesIreland and Many Isles.

This charming monarch – “le roy barbu” (‘bearded king’) – had a hobby of trimming, or “purfling”, his cloak with the beards of the kings he conquered. He had already shown himself antagonistic to Arthur at the time of the first kings’ rebellion, but he did not join the eleven rebelling kings, pursuing instead his “great war” on Leodegrance of Cameliard.

One can well imagine that he was not popular with his fellow kings of Britain, whether they opposed Arthur or not. Not long after Bedegraine, and, as it seems, about the time Arthur acquired Excalibur, Ryons sent the young king notice that his cloak was now decorated with the beards of eleven kings who had shaved their chins as part of their homage to him, and he wanted Arthur’s beard to make it an even dozen.

Quipping that his beard was “full young yet to make a purfle of it”, Arthur conquered Ryons instead, though not without the material assistance of Balin and Balan. Acting under the guidance of Merlin, these two knights waylaid Ryons when the took time out from besieging Castle Terrabil to ride to a tryst with the Lady de Vance. Balin and Balan smote down the king, slew more than forty of his men, and routed the remnant. Ryons yielded rather than be slain, and the brothers delivered him prisoner to Arthur.

King Arthur came then to King Rience, and said, Sir king, ye are welcome: by what adventure come ye hither? Sir, said King Rience, I came hither by an hard adventure.

This passage suggests that, with all his faults, Ryons had a streak of ironic humor and could apply it even to himself. Ryon’s brother Sir Nero continued the war at Terrabil, leading then battalions; King Lot, apparently with the rest of his royal allies of the second rebellion in his host, was on the way to join Nero, but Merlin delayed him with a ruse, so that both rebel armies were defeated and Nero, Lot, and the other kings killed in the battle. What happened to Ryons himself does not seem to be told.

Chrétien de Troyes mentions King Rion of the Isles, but only in passing after Arthur and his host have beaten him in battle. In a footnote to this passage, Ruth Cline mentions that King Rion has been identified with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s giant Ritho (Rhitta) and with the giant Rithon of Wace’s “Roman De Brut”. Like Malory’s Ryons, Geoffrey’s Ritho bedecked himself with the beards of defeated monarchs and demanded Arthur’s for his collection. Chrétien does not include this detail: might have simply used a well known episode to indicate the time of Percivale’s first arrival at Arthur’s court?

The Vulgate, however, tells us that Ryons was a descendant of Hercules and was killed by Arthur in single combat. The “King of Norgales” in later episodes would therefore be a different man – possibly Galehodin, nephew of Duke Galeholt, although not sufficiently confident of this to list Galehodin among the kings.

Also according to the Vulgate, Tradelmant is the grandson of the King of Norgales. Tennyson seems to identify Rience of Norgales with Uriens of Gore, possibly as much for the similarity of names as for artistic purposes. Malory’s Uriens of Gore, however, is listed in the first alliance of rebel kings, while Rience is off fighting Leodegrance.


See also
Ryons’ Mantle and Sword | The Legend of King Arthur