Roger Aytoun Esq

Aytoun was a Whig writer to the signet. Inclusion in the Whig canon has been gained through prolific rhetoric supporting whig ideals and projects (Jeffrey and Smith's Edinburgh Review, Francis Horner's parliamentary speeches, Henry Cockburn's memorials). Aytoun has not left a written whig legacy (although his son rebelled, and left a high tory one), but appears to have given strong and sometimes vital practical support in the background. His role would be worthy of further study by anyone investigating the Edinburgh whigs. Why, for example, did he die bankrupt: was it fighting to ensure his appointment in Chancery against the corrupt claims of the Earl of Rosslyn, or maintaining a lifestyle to demonstate that a Whig could be as elegant as a Tory, or over-ambitious capitalist involvement in, for example, the Edinburgh property market which crashed in 1825? His father's inventory, listing the books amongst which young Roger grew up, shows a clear preference for works which would encourage an the Anglicising, improving attitude characteristic of the Whig party.

1767 - 16 March 1843
William Aytoun WS, second son of Roger Aytoun of Inchdairnie, Fife. d.10 May 1780. When he died his well-furnished house in Edinburgh is enumerated in detail, including four-poster beds, 'two French elbow chairs and three set of covers', chimney and pier glasses, 'landscapes framed and gilded', mahogany tables, chairs and bureaux, 'three scarlet moreen window curtains', a 'large Wilton carpet', kitchen furnishings listed down to the last napkin, suggesting he could have twelve to dinner, a 'two-wheeled chaise and harness' with 'a black mare'. He also had a house of Rinds in Saline, Fife, similarly furnished, with horses in the stables Kate, Ball, Charlie, Nell, Blaze, young Charley, Blackie and Blackbeard. All his cows are listed by name, colour, age and weight. He possessed an extensive library of books including John Parkinson The Theatre of Plants, the Bible in Latin, a Latin lexicon, Scott's History of England, Scottish legal works, Arnot's History of Edinburgh, Hume's History of England, ?Craig de Freuidis' An Institution of General History, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, Smollet's History of England, Guthrie's History of Scotland, George MacKenzie's Laws and Customs of Scotland, Cicero, Virgil, Plutarch, Sallust, Pliny (in English), Horace, 'The Private Life of the Romans', 'The History of the Rebellion' by Rev Peter Rae, Roman history, 'A Journey through Scotland', 'A Tour through Britain', books on farming and husbandry, 'The King of Russia's Memoirs', 'Hymn to the Power of Harmony', 'History of the European settlements in the East and West Indies', Pope and Swift's works, Montesqueue's Spirit of the Laws, Fordyce's Sermons to young women, Mrs Rowe's Devout Exercises of the Heart, Buchanan's History, The Spectator, a novel by Montague, Dyke's Guide to the English Tongue and Magna Carta. His property was valued at £1065 sterling, but £6,733 when money owed him was included. Miss Mary Congalton owed him £2 14s, Emily Hog's father owed him £1 4s. Robert Wardlaw Ramsay's father owed him £21 6s. (11) In the 17thC, Aytoun of that ilk was a Fifeshire royalist killed by Covenanters. In the 18thC the Aytouns of Fife founded the Kirkcaldy spinning trade. (9 pp.152,217)
Isobel Edmonstone, d.1825 (buried in St John's)
In 1793 at Bristo, opposite Charles Street, in 1805 at 37 Queen Street, in 1818 at 21 Abercromby Place
Murieston, West Lothian. He bought it in 1812 from Henry Jamieson, a failed banker, but he too got into debt and it was transferred to trustees in 1829, from whom it was bought by James Maitland Hog of Newliston (? brother of Rachel Hog) (16)
Political views
Whig. In 1823 he was one of the biggest subscribers to the cause of Spanish independence with Henry Cockburn, Leonard Horner and other whigs.
Writer to the Signet. Director in Chancery 1837. His appointment to this office was challenged by the Earl of Rosslyn, who had been appointed to it by his father, the previous officeholder, and whose lawyer sent a threatening challenge to Roger Aytoun:
... The whole orders which may have been given by the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury ... are void & null & of no force strength or effect whatsoever ... You shall not be entitled to possession of the said office or to exercise and enjoy any of the rights privileges & emoluments thereof ... And that you shall be responsible for all loss and damage whatsoever which the said James Alexander Earl of Rosslyn and John Dundas shall sustain ... through your appointment to the foresaid office.
Aytoun replied,
That in respect the said James Alexander Earl of Rosslyn and John Dundas now claimed the office of Writer and Clerk of Chancery in virtue of a commission from the late Earl of Rosslyn who held his own commission for life only, their appointment by the ordinary rules of law fell by his death and the Respondent has now right to that office by the appointment of His Majesty, but if the Claimants were resolved to maintain their right, their mode of procedure was obvious: they only had to bring a Declerator of their rights against the Respondent and Lords of Treasury or other proper officers of state before the Supreme Court, and in the meantime the Respondent as Director of Chancery would collect the fees ... and lodge them separately in Bank till such time as the right of the Claimants should be ascertained.
The Earl's attorney James Douglas replied 'that he adhered to his protest, and that the said James ... & John ... intended to continuance in possession of their office as Clerks of Chancery and to collect the fees and emoluments thereof for ther own behoof', but it would appear that this protest against reform was ineffective. (12)
Assessed taxes 1811
His house had 23 windows and rental value of £75 (the rest of the street is £95). One male servant.
Wealth at Death
He died in debt, the London Gazette announcing on 11 April 1843,
The estates of Roger Aytoun, Writer to the Signet, lately residing at no.21 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh, now deceased, were sequestrated on the 6th day of April 1843... A composition may be offered at this latter meeting; and to entitle creditors to the first dividend, their oaths and ground of debt must be lodged... (13)
According to the Edinburgh Gazette of 9 June 1854, his creditors were still waiting for satisfaction. He left no will, but he or perhaps his son ensured his family were comforably provided for: his unmarried daughters Isabella and Margaret Keith lived at 28 Inverleith Row and died in 1893 and 1895 with wealth of £8,000 between them. (14) Margaret Keith was the keeper of a great deal of family heritage pertaining to Roger, Joan Keir, her brother William Edmonstone Aytoun, Alexander Keith and Walter Scott, which she bequeathed to various recipients including Mrs Wedderburn Maxwell, St James Episcopal Church Inverleith, Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Aytoun, the National Gallery, Museum of Antiquities, and Walter Scott Monument museum. (15)
In May 1811 the Caledonian Mercury reported that 'An Exchequer Jury, by the hands of Roger Aytoun, Esq. W.S. has sent 5l 15s 6d to Robert Allan and Son [Thomas Allan], for the British prisoners in France' (10, 25 May 1811). He was a member of the Caledonian Horticultural Society (10, 25 Dec 1811)
Chapel connection
1810 (baptism), Trustee and Vestrymember of St John's Chapel
Married on
9 March 1807
Joan Keir
Margaret (1808), Isabella (1810), William Edmonstone Aytoun (1813). He was a neo-Jacobite novelist, satirist and poet, author of 'Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers' and other poems, d.1865
Parner in law of Alexander Young. In 1796 Walter Scott saw Aytoun unexpectedly 'in the City of Kelso on their return from visiting the Lakes of Westmoreland': 'The day being diabolical I had it not in my power to shew them the beauties of this place ' but he was able to please him with the news of Archibald Campbell and Mary Anne Erskine's marriage. (6 vol.1 p.26) In 1824 Scott and Aytoun were both involved (representing different political parties) in the foundation of the Edinburgh Academy, which almost foundered on the question of whom to appoint as Rector. Scott sent the latest news to James Skene, 'I trust to you to keep our friends up to this Whig gossip, for such it is. Aytoun spoke fairly about the influence of opinions out of doors. For my part, knowing how easily a cry is raised, I will be the last to trust the vox populi.' (6 vol.8 p.227)

11 April 1843


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Gazetteer of the British Isles (Edinburgh: Bartholomew and son, 1966)
  4. Assessed taxes for the Burgh of Edinburgh year ending at Whitsunday 1811, National Archives of Scotland E327/51
  5. Mark Weinstein, William Edmondstoune Aytoun and the Spasmodic Controversy (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968
  6. H.J.C. Grierson, Letters of Sir Walter Scott (London, Constable and Co. 1932)
  7. Register of The Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signeted. Ronald K. Will (Edinburgh, Clark Constable, 1983)
  8. John F. Mitchell, Edinburgh Monumental Inscriptions pre 1855, volume 3: St John's Episopal Churchyard (The Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh 2003)
  9. J.G. Mackay, A history of Fife and Kinross (Edinburgh, William Blackwood, 1896)
  10. Caledonian Mercury
  11. William Aytoun's Will, National Archives of Scotland CC8/8/125/1040
  12. National Archives of Scotland GD164/1535
  13. London Gazette 11 April 1843 p.1228.
  14. Inventories of Isabella and Margaret Keith Aytoun, National Archives of Scotland SC70/1/321/601 and SC70/1/341/31
  15. Margaret Keith Aytoun's will, National Archives of Scotland SC70/4/283/745
  16. Hardy Bertram McCall, The history and antiquities of the parish of Mid-Calder, with some account of the religious house of Torphichen (R. Cameron, Edinburgh, 1894) p.173-4.

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