Homage was sometimes rendered, whether for these lordships, for the Lowlands, or for the whole Scottish realm, but it was the capture of William the Lion during the revolt of the English baronage which suggested to Henry the Second the project of a closer dependence of Scotland on the English Crown. To gain his freedom, William consented to hold his crown of Henry and his heirs, the prelates and lords of the Scotch kingdom did homage to Henry as to their direct lord, and a right of appeal in all Scotch causes was allowed to the superior court of the English suzerain. From this bondage, however, Scotland was soon freed by the prodigality of Richard, who allowed her to buy back the freedom she had forfeited, and from that time the difficulties of the older claim were evaded by a legal compromise. The Scot Kings repeatedly did homage to the English sovereign, but with a reservation of rights which were prudently left unspecified. The English King accepted the homage on the assumption that it was rendered to him as overlord of the Scottish realm, and this assumption was neither granted nor denied.
For nearly a hundred years the relations of the two countries were thus kept peaceful and friendly, and the death of Alexander the Third seemed destined to remove even the necessity of protests by a closer union of the two kingdoms. Alexander had wedded his only daughter to the King of Norway, and after long negotiation the Scotch Parliament proposed the marriage of her child Margaret, "the Maid of Norway," with the son of Edward the First. It was, however, carefully provided in the marriage treaty of Brigham that Scotland should remain a separate and free kingdom, and that its laws and customs should be preserved inviolate. No military aid was to be claimed by the English King, no Scotch appeal to be carried to an English court. But this project was abruptly frustrated by the child's death on her voyage to Scotland, and with the rise of claimant after claimant of the vacant throne Edward was drawn into far other relations to the Scottish realm.
Of the thirteen pretenders to the throne of Scotland, only three could be regarded as serious claimants. By the extinction of the line of William the Lion the right of succession passed to the daughters of his brother David. The claim of John Balliol, Lord of Galloway, rested on his descent from the eldest of these; that of Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale, on his descent from the second; that of John Hastings, Lord of Abergavenny, on his descent from the third. At this crisis the Norwegian King, the Primate of St. Andrew's, and seven of the Scotch Earls, had already appealed to Edward before Margaret's death; and the death itself was followed by the consent both of the claimants and the Council of Regency to refer the question of the succession to his decision in a Parliament at Norham. But the over-lordship which the Scots acknowledged was something far less direct and definite than what Edward claimed at the opening of this conference. His claim was supported by excerpts from English monastic chronicles, and by the slow advance of an English army, while the Scotch lords, taken by surprise, found little help in the delay which was granted them, and at last, in common with nine of the claimants themselves, formally admitted Edward's direct suzerainty.
To the nobles, in fact, the concession must have seemed a small one, for like the principal claimants they were for the most part Norman in blood, with estates in both countries, and looking for honours and pensions from the English Court. From the Commons who were gathered with the nobles at Norham no admission of Edward's claims could be extorted; but in Scotland, feudalized as it had been by David, the Commons were as yet of little weight, and their opposition was quietly passed by. All the rights of a feudal suzerain were at once assumed by the English King; he entered into the possession of the country as into that of a disputed fief to be held by its over-lord till the dispute was settled, his peace was sworn throughout the land, its castles delivered into his charge, while its bishops and nobles swore homage to him directly as their lord superior. Scotland was thus reduced to the subjection which she had experienced under Henry the Second, but the full discussion which followed over the various claims to the throne showed that, while exacting to the full what he believed to be his right, Edward desired to do justice to the country itself.
The commissioners whom he named to report on the claims to the throne were mainly Scotch; a proposal for the partition of the realm among the claimants was rejected as contrary to Scotch law; and the claim of Balliol as representative of the elder branch was finally preferred to that of his rivals.
The castles were at once delivered to the new monarch, and Balliol did homage to Edward with full acknowledgement of the services due to him from the realm of Scotland. For a time there was peace. Edward in fact seemed to have no desire to push farther the rights of his crown. Even allowing that Scotland was a dependent kingdom, it was far from being an ordinary fief of the English crown. By feudal custom a distinction had always been held to exist between the relations of a dependent king to a superior lord and those of a vassal noble to his sovereign. At Balliol's homage Edward had disclaimed, in strict accordance with the marriage treaty of Brigham, any right to the ordinary incidents of a fief, those of wardship or marriage; but there were other customs of the realm of Scotland as incontestable as these. The Scot King had never been held bound to attend the council of the English baronage, to do service in English warfare, or to contribute on the part of his Scotch realm to English aids. No express acknowledgement of these rights had been given by Edward, but for a time they were practically observed. The claim of independent justice was more doubtful, as it was of higher import than these.