Sir Robert Ayton (Aytoun or Aiton), courtier, poet and philosopher, was born at Kinaldie in Scotland in 1570, one of four sons of Andrew Ayton (d.1589) and his wife Mariona. He attended St Andrew’s University with his brother John. He wrote poems in several languages, including French and Scots, and has been credited with writing the original version of Auld Lang Syne. Robert became secretary to Anne of Denmark, queen of James I (and VI of Scotland), and later to Henrietta Maria, queen of Charles I. Many of his poems were addressed to the King and he was knighted in 1612. He died unmarried on 25 February 1638 and was buried in the south ambulatory of Westminster Abbey.
On his monument there is a bronze bust by Francesco Fanelli. This is flanked by standing figures of Apollo and Athene who originally wore crowns and held a wreath over the bust. A bronze cartouche of arms appears above: “on a cross engrailed between four crescents, a rose”. The motto means “And plucked they will give forth an odour”. The inscription plate, in the form of a sheep’s skin, has a Latin inscription which can be translated:
“The monument of the noble Sir Robert Aiton, adorned with all virtue and erudition, especially poetry; of the ancient and illustrious family of Aiton originating from the castle of Kinaldie among the Scots, appointed Gentleman of the Bedchamber by the noble King James, sent to Germany to deliver the royal book to the Emperor and princes of the Empire, private secretary first to Queen Anne then to Queen Mary, and Master of the Hospital of St Catherine, he yielded his soul to the Creator and here his mortal remains are deposited awaiting the second coming of the Redeemer. Leaving behind Charles and Mary, he sees Anne again, and the ornament of the court changes his honour for high Olympus. He died unmarried in Whitehall not without great honour, to the grief and lamentation of all, aged 68, in the year of human salvation 1638. This monument was erected to the best of uncles by John Aiton”
Below on the stone work are the words (translated):
“Here lies the glory of the Muses, of his native land, and of the Court: a pattern of virtue at home and abroad, not such as may be imitated”.
A photograph of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
See also the website of the Ayton Family Society.
Click on the images to enlarge