Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Scottish Nation

AYTON, or AITON 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.’

      The 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.

      The 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.

      A 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.)

      In 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.

Sir John 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.

About the 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.

      The 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.

AYTON, SIR ROBERT, 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 Ayton’s monument]

      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 expectat.

Carolvm linqvens, repetit Parentem
Et valedicens Mariae, revisit
Annam et Avlai decvs, alto Olymp.

Mvtat Honore.
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.


At the top is, Decerptae Dabvnt Odorem, the motto of the Aytons.

      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:


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. 54.

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. ibid.

Epigrammata Varia, lb.

In Obitum Duds Buckingamli, a Filtono cultro extincti, MDCXXVIII. p. 74. ibid.

Ayton/Aytoun from the Dictionary of National Biography

Memoir of William Edmondstoune Aytoun

Pollock and Ayton
By Rosaline Masson for the Famous Scots Series (1898) (pdf)

Return to The Scottish Nation Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus