a surname derived from the village at Eytown, now called Ayton,
in Berwickshire, which seems to have taken its name, anciently
written Eytun and Eitun, from the water of Eye, that, rising
among the Lammermuir hills, flows into the sea at Eyemoutb. The
etymology of the.. word is ‘the town on the river.’
family of Ayton were descended from Gilbert de Vesci, an
Anglo-Norman knight, who, settling in Scotland shortly after the
Conquest, obtained the lands of Ayton in Berwickshire, and
adopted the name of the lands as his family name. About the year
1166 Helias and Dolfinus de Eitun attested a charter of Waldeve,
earl of Dunbar. Stephanus de Eyton appears as witness to a
charter "de quieta clamatione de terra de Swiatona,"
granted by his son, Earl Patrick, who died in 1232. In the reign
of William the Lion, Helias, Mauricius, and Adam de Eitun are
among the witnesses to a donation of David de Quixwood to the
lazaret or hospital of lepers at Auldcambus. In 1250 Adam de
Eiton granted to Henry de Lamberton three tofts of land with
houses in Eyemouth. In 1331, Adam, the prior of Coldingham,
acknowledged a grant made to him of land for the site of a mill
near the bridge of Ayton, by Adam, the son of William de Ayton.
Robert de Ayton was among the number of the Scots slain at the
battle of Nesbit-moor, 22d June 1402.
principal family ended in an heiress, who, in the reign of James
the Third, married George Home, a son of the house of Home, who
thus acquired the original lands of Ayton. By charter of date
29th November 1472, the greater part of the lands of Ayton, with
those of Whitfield, were granted to George Home, son of Sir
Alexander Home of Dunglass, who thus became ancestor of the
Homes of Ayton.
History mentions the baronial castle of Ayton, on the banks of
the Eye, founded by the Norman baron de Vesci, which was taken
by the earl of Surrey in 1498, but no vestiges of it now remain.
The modern mansion-house of Ayton, built upon its site, was
destroyed by fire in 1834.
branch of the Berwickshire Aytons settled in the county of Fife,
and Skene imputes a Gaelic origin to the name. "The Pictish
Chronicle," he says, "in mentioning the foundation of the church
of Abernethy, describes the boundaries of the territory ceded to
the Culdees by the Pictish king as having been ‘a lapide in
Apurfeit usque ad lapidem juxta Cairful, id est Lethfoss,
et inde in altum usque ad Athan.' It is a
remarkable fact that the same places are still known by these
names, although slightly corrupted into those of Apurfarg,
Carpow, and Ayton, and that the words are unquestionably
Gaelic." (Skene’s Highlanders of Scotland vol. i. p. 76.)
1507, James the Fourth disponed the west half of the lands of
Denmuir, or Nether Denmuir, in the pariah of Abdie, Fifeshire,
to Andrew Ayton, captain of the castle of Stirling, a son of the
family of Ayton of Ayton, in Berwickshire, "pro bono et fideli
servitio." He was the uncle of the heiress of Ayton above
mentioned, and in consequence of the original lands of Ayton
having passed, by her marriage, to the house of Home, he
obtained a new charter of the lands of Nether Denmuir, in which
they were named Ayton, and the Fifeshire branch of the family
were afterwards styled Ayton of Ayton.
Ayton of that ilk left two sons, Robert and Andrew. Robert, the
eldest, succeeded to the estates of his uncle Robert, Lord
Colville of Ochiltree, and in consequence, assumed the name of
Colville, being styled Robert Colville of Craigflower. The
second son, Andrew, was a merchant in Glasgow, of which city he
became lord provost. He built a large house, surrounded by a
garden, near the High Street of Glasgow, the site of which, now
occupied by public works, is still called Ayton court.
commencement of the eighteenth century the lands of Ayton in
Fife were acquired by Patrick Murray, Esq., second son of Sir
Patrick Murray, the second baronet of Ochtertyre, and they still
continue in the possession of his descendant.
Aytons of Inchdairnie, in the parish of Kinglassie, are
understood to be the lineal descendants of the Anglo-Norman de
Vescis, who settled in Berwickshire. Inchdairnie has, for a long
period, been the property of the Aytons. Of this family was
Major-general Roger Ayton of Inchdairnie, who died about 1810.
His eldest son, John Ayton, was served Ayton of Ayton in 1829.
Another son, James Ayton, Esq., advocate, stood candidate for
the representation of the city of Edinburgh, some years ago.
Towards the end of the seventeenth century the lands of Kippoo,
in the parish of Kingsbarns, were sold by the representative of
the family of John Philip, burgess in Cupar, to whom they
belonged, to Sir John Ayton, younger son of Ayton of Ayton, who
was gentleman of the bed-chamber and usher of the black rod to
Charles the Second. He was succeeded in them, in 1700, by his
grandson, John Ayton of Kinaldie. To the latter family Sir
Robert Ayton, the subject of the following notice, belonged.
an accomplished poet, a younger son of Andrew Ayton of Kinaldie,
Fife-shire, was born there in 1570, and studied at St.
Leonard’s college, St. Andrews, where he took the degree of
master of arts in 1588. He afterwards went to France, where he
resided for some time. In 1603 he addressed from Paris an
elegant panegyric, in Latin verse, to King James the Sixth, on
his accession to the crown of England, which was printed at
Paris the same year. On his appearance at court he was knighted,
and appointed one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber, and
private secretary to the queen. He was also, subsequently,
secretary to Henrietta Maria, queen of Charles I. About 1609 he
was sent by James as ambassador to the emperor of
Germany, with the king’s ‘Apology for the Oath of Allegiance,’
which he had dedicated to all the crowned heads of Europe. He
was highly esteemed by all the men of genius and poets of his
time, and Ben Jonson took pride in informing Drummond of
Hawthornden, that "Sir Robert Ayton loved him dearly." He died
at London in March 1638, and was buried in the south aisle of
the choir of Westminster Abbey, where a handsome monument was
erected by his nephew, David Ayton of Kinaldie, to his memory.
[a representation of Sir Robert
A representation of it is given in Smith’s Iconographia
Scotica, with his bust in the centre, of which the following
is a woodcut. The following is the inscription on his monument:
Clarissmi omnigenaq. virtvte et ervditione, praesertim Poesi
ornatissmi eqvitis, Domini Roberti Aitoni, ex antiqva et
illvstri gente Aitona, ad Castrvm Kinnadinvm apvd Scotos,
orivndi, qvi a Serenissmo R. Jacobo in Cvbicvla Interiora
admissvs, in Germaniam ad Imperatore, Imperiiq. Principes cvm
libello Regio, Regiae avthoritatis vindice, Legatvs, ac primvm
Annae, demvm Mariae, serenissmis Briitanniarvm Reginis ab
epistolis, consiliis et libellis supplicibvs, nec non Xenodochio
Stae Catherinae praefectvs. Anima Creatori Reddita, hic
depositis mortalibvs exvviis secvndvin Redemptoris adventvm
Carolvm linqvens, repetit Parentem
Et valedicens Mariae, revisit
Annam et Avlai decvs, alto Olymp.
Hoc devoti gratiq. animi
Testimonium optimo Patrvo
Jo. Aitonvs M L P.
Obiit Caelebs in Regis Aibavia
Non sine maximo Honore omnivm
Lvctv et Mcerore, AEtat. svae LXVIII.
Salvt. Hvmanae M.DCXXXVIII.
MVSARVM DECVS HIC, PATRLAEQ. AVLAEQ. DOMIQVE ET FORIS EXEMPLAR
SED NON IMITABILE HONESTI.
At the top is, Decerptae Dabvnt Odorem, the motto of the
His English poems are few in number. They are remarkable
for their purity of style and delicacy of fancy. The following
lyric is accounted one of his best pieces:
ON WOMAN’S INCONSTANCY.
I lov’d thee once, I’ll love no more,
Thine be the grief as is the blame;
Thou art not what thou wast before,
What reason I should be the same?
He that can love unlov’d again,
Hath better store of love than brain:
God send me love my debts to pay,
While unthrifts fool their love away.
Nothing could have my love o’erthrown,
If thou hadst still continued mine;
Yea, if thou hadst remain’d thy own,
I might perchance have yet been thine.
But thou thy freedom did recall,
That if thou might elsewhere enthral;
And then how could I but disdain
A captive’s captive to remain?
When new desires had conquer’d thee,
And changed the object of thy will,
It had been lethargy in me,
Not constancy to love thee still.
Yea, it had been a sin to go
And prostitute affection so,
Since we are taught no prayers to say
To such as must to others pray.
Yet do thou glory in thy choice,
Thy choice of his good fortune boast;
I’ll neither grieve nor yet rejoice,
To see him gain what I have lost:
The height of my disdain shall be,
To laugh at him, to blush for thee;
To love thee still, but go no more,
A begging to a beggar’s door.
In a different style are the following stanzas prefixed to his
Basia sive Strena Cal. Jan. Lond. 1605, 4to. They are addressed
"To the most worshipful and worthy Sir James Hay, Gentleman of
his Majesty’s bedchamber."
When Janus’ keys unlocks the gates above,
And throws more age on our sublunar lands,
I sacrifice with flames of fervent love
These hecatombs of kisses to thy hands.
Their worth is small, but thy deserts are such,
They’ll pass in worth, if once thy shrine they touch.
Laugh but on them, and then they will compare
With all the harvest of th’ Arabian fields,
With all the pride of that perfumed air
Which winged troops of musked Zephyrs yields,
When with their breath they embalm the Elysian plain,
And make the flow’rs reflect those scents again.
Yea, they will be more sweet in their conceit
Than Venus’ kisses spent on Adon’s wounds,
Than those wherewith pale Cynthia did entreat
The lovely shepherd of the Latmian bounds,
And more than those which Jove’s ambrosial mouth
Prodigalized upon the Trojan youth.
I know they cannot such acceptance find,
If rigour censure their uncourtly frame;
But thou art courteous, and wilt call to mind
Th’ excuse which shields both me and them from blame;
My Muse was but a novice into this,
And, being virgin, scarce well taught to kiss.
A panegyrical sonnet by Ayton occurs among ‘The Poetical Essays
of Alexander Craige, Scotobritane,’ sig. F. 3. London 1604, 4to.
(Irving’s Scottish Poets, vol. ii. p. 300, note.) A beautiful
song, commencing, "I do confess thou’rt smooth and fair,"
printed anonymously in Lawes’s ‘Ayres and Dialogues,’ 1659, and
rendered into Scotch by Burns without improving it, has been
attributed to Sir Robert Ayton, but without any other ground
than that "in purity of language, elegance, and tenderness, it
resembles his undoubted lyrics." In ‘Watsou’s Collection of
Scottish poems,’ 1706-11, several of Ayton’s pieces are inserted
together with his name, but the poem mentioned appears without
it, separate from those that are stated to be his. John Aubrey
styles Ayton "one of the best poets of his time." According to
Dempster, he also wrote Greek and French verses. Several of his
Latin poems are preserved in the ‘Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum,’
printed in 1637 at Amsterdam.— Bannatyne Miscellany.—The
following is a list of his works:
Ad Jacobum VI. Britanniarum Regem, Angliam petentem, Panegyris,
p. 40. inter Deiltias Poetarum Scotorum, edit. ab Arturo
Johnstono. Amst. 1637, Svo.
Basis, sive Strena ad Jacobum Hayum, Equitem illustrissimum, p.
Lessus in Funere Raphaelis Thorei, Medici, et Poetae
praestantissimi, Londoni peste extincti, p. 61. ibid.
Carina Caro, p. 63. lb.
De Proditione Pulverea, quae incidet in diem Martis, p. 65. lb.
Gratiarum Actio, cam in privatum Cubiculum admitteretur. p. 66.
Epigrammata Varia, lb.
In Obitum Duds Buckingamli, a Filtono cultro extincti, MDCXXVIII.
p. 74. ibid.