Robert Aytoun (1570-1638). Courtesy My Poetic Side.

Robert Aytoun
Born 1570
Died 1638 (aged 68)
Resting place Westminster Abbey
Nationality Scottish
Occupation lawyer, poet
Notable works Diophantus and Charidora

Sir Robert Ayton or Aytoun (1570-1638) was a Scottish poet, one of the first Scots to write in the English language.

Life Edit


Aytoun was the son of Ayton of Kinaldie in Fife. After graduating at St. Andrews, he studied law at Paris, became ambassador to the Emperor, and held other court offices. He appears to have been well-known to his literary contemporaries in England. He wrote poems in Latin, Greek, and English, and was one of the first Scotsmen to write in the last. His chief poem is Diophantus and Charidora; "Inconstancy Upbraided" is perhaps the best of his short poems. He is credited with a little poem, "Old Long Syne," which probably suggested Burns's famous "Auld Lang Syne."[1]

Youth and education Edit

Aytoun was born at the castle of Kinaldie, in the parish of Cameron, near St. Andrews, in 1570. He proceeded to the University of St. Andrews (St. Leonard's College) in 1584, and took his degree of M.A. in 1588. He obtained his patrimony in 1590, and thereupon went on the usual round of continental travel. He also studied civil law at the university of Paris. According to Thomas Dempster (Historia Eccles. Gentis Scotorum), ‘he long cherished useful learning in France, and left there distinguished proof and reputation of his worth’ in certain verses in Latin, Greek, and French.[2]

At courtEdit

Aytoun returned from the continent in 1603, bringing over with him a Latin poem in hexameters, addressed to James I: ‘De Fœlici, et semper Augusto, Jacobi VI, Scotiæ Insularumque adiacentium Regis, Imperio nunc recens florentissimis Angliæ et Hiberniæ Sceptris amplificato Roberti Aytoni Scoti Panegyris. Paris, 1603.’[2] He was cordially received at the English court. He rose at once into royal favour, and shared in the king's lavish if rather indiscriminate bounty to his fellow-countrymen.[3]

He was appointed gentleman of the bedchamber and private secretary to the queen. He was sent as ambassador to Germany to deliver the king's "Apology," originally published anonymously, but now avowed and "delivered" to all the sovereigns of Europe by its complacent author.[3] In 1623 he was a candidate in competition with Bacon for the provostship of Eton. It fell to Sir Henry Wotton, notwithstanding an application addressed to James by Aytoun in verse.[3]

His correspondence and casual notices in state and domestic papers show him to have been on intimate terms with the literary men of the period. Ben Jonson told Drummond of Hawthornden proudly that "Sir Robert Aytoun loved him [Jonson] dearly." Aubrey says of him that "he was acquainted with all the wits of his time in England," and that "he was a great acquaintance of Mr. Thomas Hobbes, of Malmesbury, who told me he made use of him (together with Ben Jonson) for an Aristarchus, when he drew up his epistle dedicatory for his translation of Thucydides."[3]

On the death of James I in 1625, all his offices and honours were continued to him by Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.[3]

In 1633–1634 he is found mixed up with a "patent" quarrel. In 1636 he was appointed master of the royal hospital of St. Katherine, with 200l. a year. He was also made master of requests and of ceremonies and privy councillor. In his various offices, and on receiving his successive advances, it was acknowledged in his lifetime that "he conducted himself with such moderation and prudence that when he obtained high honours in the palace, all held he deserved greater." [3]

He died at Whitehall, February 1637–8, in his 69th year, having a few days before prepared his will. [3]


The literary repute of Aytoun is as much of a paradox as Sir Edward Dyer's. His Latin productions are stilted and unmellifluous, mere echoes of the iron age of classic Latinity, and simply grotesque beside Buchanan's and Johnston's. Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet indeed gives him a relatively large space in his Delitiæ Poet. Scot., but simply from his contemporary repute. Among his Latin poems appear several epitaphs and epigrams celebrating eminent contemporaries. The latest event to which any of them refers is the death of Buckingham in 1628, commemorated in elegiacs.[3]

Aytoun's Diophantus and Charidora has a certain interest as having been among the earlier writing in English by a Scot, but it is poor in substance. His ‘Inconstancy Upbraided’ has a ring of truthfulness and touches of music. Such praise as is due to the elegant trifles of an accomplished man of the world is all that can be allowed his poems. Aytoun himself made no claim to be a poet. As Sir John Aytoun in his epistle (Add. MS. ut supra) put it, "The author of these ensueing poems did not affect the name of a poet, having neither publisht in print nor kept coppyes of anything he writt, either in Latin or English."[3]

A copy of his Basia is in the Drummond collection of the university of Edinburgh. Dr. Charles Rogers, first in 1844, very uncritically, and more recently in a revised ‘privately printed edition,’ showing some advance on the former, yet needing improvement, published the poems of Aytoun, with a full if rather discursive life.[3]


He received knighthood at Rycot on 30 August 1612.[3]

On 11 December 1619 he obtained a grant of £500 per annum on certain "royal profits" (Docquet Book of Exchequer) for 31 years; but in 1620 this was commuted for a life-pension of the same amount.[3]

Aytoun is buried in the south ambulatory of Westminster Abbey. His monument contains a bronze bust by Francesco Fanelli.[4]

2 of his poems, "To His Foresaken Mistress" and "To an Inconstant One," were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[5] [6]



  • Poems (edited by Charles Rogers). Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1844
    • revised, London: privately published, 1871
  • English and Latin Poems (edited by Charles B. Gullens). Edinburgh: Blackwood, for the Scottish Text Society, 1963.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

"To his Forsaken Mistress" by Sir Robert Ayton

"To his Forsaken Mistress" by Sir Robert Ayton. Short Poetry Collection 076

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Grosart, Alexander Balloch (1885) "Ayton, Robert" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 2 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 300-301 . Web, Nov. 25, 2017.


  1. John William Cousin, "Ayton, Sir Robert," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 15. Web, Nov. 25, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Grosart, 300.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Grosart, 301.
  4. Robert Ayton, People, History, Westminster Abbey. Web, July 11, 2016.
  5. "To his Foresaken Mistress," Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 14, 2012.
  6. "To an Inconstant One," Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 14, 2012.
  7. Search results = au:Robert Ayton, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 25, 2017.

External linksEdit

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