Sir Robert Aytoun, or Ayton, (1570-1638), Scottish poet, son of Andrew Aytoun of Kinaldie, Fifeshire, was born in 1570. He was educated at the university of St Andrews, where he was incorporated as a student of St Leonard's College in 1584 and graduated M.A. in 1588. He lived for some years in France, and on the accession of James VI. to the English throne he wrote in Paris a Latin panegyric, which brought him into immediate favour at court. He was knighted in 1612. He held various lucrative offices, and was private secretary to the queens of James I. and Charles I. He died in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 28th of February 1638. His reputation with his contemporaries was high, both personally and as a writer, though he had no ambition to be known as the latter.
Aytoun's remains are in Latin and English. In respect of the latter he is one of the earliest Scots to use the southern standard as a literary medium. The Latin poems include the panegyric already referred to, an Epicedium in obitum Thoma Rhodi; Basia, sive Strena ad Jacobum Hayum; Lessus in funere Raphaelis Thorei; Carina Caro; and minor pieces, occasional and epitaphic. His first English poem was Diophantus and Charidora (to which he refers in his Latin panegyric to James). He has left a number of pieces on amatory subjects, including songs and sonnets.
Aytoun's Latin poems are printed in Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (Amsterdam, 1637), i. pp. 40-75. His English poems are preserved in a MS. in the British Museum (Add. MSS. 10,308), which was prepared by his nephew, Sir John Aytoun. Both were collected by Charles Rogers in The Poems of Sir Robert Aytoun (London, privately printed, 1871). This edition is unsatisfactory, though it is better than the first issue by the same editor in 1844. Additional poems are included which cannot be ascribed to Aytoun, and which in some cases have been identified as the work of others. The poem "I do confess thou'rt smooth and fair" may be suspected, and the old version of "Auld Lang Syne" and "Sweet Empress" are certainly not Aytoun's. Some of the English poems are printed in Watson's Collection (1706-1711) and in the Bannatyne Miscellany, i. p. 299 (1827). There is a memoir of Aytoun in Rogers's edition, and another by Grosart in the Dict. of Nat. Biog. Particulars of his public career will be found in the printed Calendars of State Papers and Register of the Privy Council of the period.