At his "Round Table of Kenilworth" a hundred lords and ladies, "clad all in silk," renewed the faded glories of Arthur's Court. The false air of romance which was soon to turn the gravest political resolutions into outbursts of sentimental feeling appeared in his "Vow of the Swan," when rising at the royal board he swore on the dish before him to avenge on Scotland the murder of Comyn. Chivalry exerted on him a yet more fatal influence in its narrowing of his sympathy to the noble class, and in its exclusion of the peasant and the craftsman from all claim to pity. "Knight without reproach" as he was, he looked calmly on at the massacre of the burghers of Berwick, and saw in William Wallace nothing but a common robber.
Hardly less powerful than the French notion of chivalry in its influence on Edward's mind was the new French conception of kingship, feudality, and law. The rise of a lawyer class was everywhere hardening customary into written rights, allegiance into subjection, loose ties such as commendation into a definite vassalage. But it was specially through French influence, the influence of St. Lewis and his successors, that the imperial theories of the Roman Law were brought to bear upon this natural tendency of the time. When the "sacred majesty" of the Caesars was transferred by a legal fiction to the royal head of a feudal baronage, every constitutional relation was changed. The "defiance" by which a vassal renounced service to his lord became treason, his after resistance " sacrilege." That Edward could appreciate what was sound and noble in the legal spirit around him was shown in his reforms of our judicature and our Parliament; but there was something as congenial to his mind in its definiteness, its rigidity, its narrow technicalities. He was never wilfully unjust, but he was too often captious in his justice, fond of legal chicanery, prompt to take advantage of the letter of the law.
The high conception of royalty which he had borrowed from St. Lewis united with this legal turn of mind in the worst acts of his reign. Of rights or liberties unregistered in charter or roll Edward would know nothing, while his own good sense was overpowered by the majesty of his crown. It was incredible to him that Scotland should revolt against a legal bargain which made her national independence conditional on the terms extorted from a claimant of her throne; nor could he view in any other light but as treason the resistance of his own baronage to an arbitrary taxation which their fathers had borne. It is in the very anomalies of such a character, in its strange union of justice and wrong-doing, of nobleness and meanness, that we must look for any fair explanation of much that has since been bitterly blamed in Edward's conduct and policy.
Fairly to understand his quarrel with the Scots, we must clear our minds of the ideas which we now associate with the words "Scotland," or the "Scotch people." At the opening of the fourteenth century the kingdom of the Scots was composed of four districts, each of which had originally its different people, its different speech, or at least dialect, and its different history. The first of these was the Lowland district, at one time called Saxony, and which now bears the name of Lothian and the Merse (or border land), the space, roughly speaking, between the Forth and Tweed. We have seen that at the close of the English conquest of Britain the kingdom of Northumbria stretched from the Humber to the Firth of Forth, and of this kingdom the Lowlands formed simply the northern portion. The English conquest and the English colonization were as complete here as over the rest of Britain. Rivers and hills indeed retained their Celtic names, but the "tons " and " hams" scattered over the country told the story of its Teutonic settlement.
Livings and Dodings left their names to Livingstone and Duddingstone; Elphinstone, Dolphinstone and Edmundstone preserved the memory of English Elphins, Dolphins, and Edmunds, who had raised their homesteads beyond the Teviot and the Tweed. To the northward and westward of this Northumbrian land lay the kingdoms of the conquered. Over the "Waste" or "Desert" - the range of barren moors which stretches from Derbyshire to the Cheviots - the Briton had sought a refuge in the long strip of coast between the Clyde and the Dee which formed the earlier Cumbria. Against this kingdom the efforts of the Northumbrian rulers had been incessantly directed; the victory of Chester had severed it from the Welsh kingdoms to the south; Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland were already subdued by the time of Ecgfrith; while the fragment which was suffered to remain unconquered between the Firths of Solway and of Clyde, and to which the name of Cumbria is in its later use confined, owned the English supremacy. At the close of the seventh century it seemed likely that the same supremacy would extend over the Celtic tribes to the north.
The district north of the Clyde and Forth was originally inhabited chiefly by the Picts, a Latin name for the people who seem to have called themselves the Cruithne. To these Highlanders the country south of the Forth was a foreign land, and significant entries in their rude chronicles tell us how in their forays "the Picts made a raid upon Saxony." But during the period of Northumbrian greatness they had begun to yield at least on their borders some kind of submission to its kings. Eadwine had built a fort at Dunedin, which became Edinburgh and looked menacingly across the Forth; and at Abercorn beside it was established an English prelate with the title of Bishop of the Picts. Ecgfrith, in whose hands the power of Northum-bria reached its highest point, marched across the Forth to change this over-lordship into a direct dominion, and to bring the series of English victories to a close. His host poured burning and ravaging across the Tay, and skirted the base of the Grampians as far as the field of Nectansmere, where King Bruidi awaited them at the head of the Picts. The great battle which followed proved a turning-point in the history of the North; the invaders were cut to pieces, Ecgfrith himself being among the slain, and the power of Northumbria was broken for ever.