We consider the linear stability to axisymmetric perturbations of the family of inviscid vortex rings discovered by Norbury (
J. Fluid Mech., vol. 57, 1973, pp. 417–431). Since these vortex rings are obtained as solutions to a free-boundary problem, their stability analysis is performed using recently developed methods of shape differentiation applied to the contour-dynamics formulation of the problem in the three-dimensional axisymmetric geometry. This approach allows us to systematically account for the effects of boundary deformations on the linearized evolution of the vortex ring. We investigate the instantaneous amplification of perturbations assumed to have the same the circulation as the vortex rings in their equilibrium configuration. These stability properties are then determined by the spectrum of a singular integro-differential operator defined on the vortex boundary in the meridional plane. The resulting generalized eigenvalue problem is solved numerically with a spectrally accurate discretization. Our results reveal that while thin vortex rings remain neutrally stable to axisymmetric perturbations, they become linearly unstable to such perturbations when they are sufficiently ‘fat’. Analysis of the structure of the eigenmodes demonstrates that they approach the corresponding eigenmodes of Rankine’s vortex and Hill’s vortex in the thin-vortex and fat-vortex limit, respectively. This study is a stepping stone on the way towards a complete stability analysis of inviscid vortex rings with respect to general perturbations.