Elizabeth Paton

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Elizabeth Paton
Born 1760
Tarbolton, Scotland
Died 1817
Occupation Servant and then housewife

Elizabeth "Betsey" Paton or later Elizabeth Andrew of Lairgieside (1760 – c. 1799) was the daughter of James Paton and Eleanor Helen Paton. Following an affair with Robert Burns she gave birth on 22 May 1785 to his first child, Elizabeth "Bess" Burns,[1] the "Dear-bought Bess", who was baptised when only two days old. Betsey met Robert Burns when she was employed as a servant girl at the Burns's Lochlea Farm[2] during the winter of 1783–84[1]. When the Burns family moved to Mossgiel Farm in March 1784, Betsey returned to her own home where Robert Burns visited her later that year.

Life and character[edit]

Elizabeth later married John Andrew, a ploughman and widower,[3] on 9 February 1788 in Tarbolton, Ayrshire, Scotland and had four children; she is said to have been a model housewife.[3] John remarried one Jean Lees in 1799, therefore Elizabeth must have died before that date.[4] In 1786, Elizabeth made a claim on Burns, but accepted a settlement of twenty pounds[1] which the poet paid out of the profits of the Kilmarnock Edition. She is said to have had a plain face but a good figure.

Isabella Begg, Burns's niece, had heard of Elizabeth Paton as "rude and uncultivated to a great degree... with a thorough (though unwomanly) contempt for every sort of refinement."'[5] In a letter to Robert Chambers she describes Elizabeth as "A well developed, plain-featured peasant girl, frank and independent .." and for these reason a favourite with Burns's mother. She goes on to say that had a "masculine understanding" and contempt for anything that savoured of culture.[5]

Loving Burns with heartfelt devotion,[1][6] she continued to see him after the Burns family had moved to Mossgiel Farm, and he returned these sentiments with more physical than spiritual devotions.[5] Isabella Begg stated that although Burns did not love her, "he never treated her unkindly."[6]

Association with Robert Burns[edit]

Full view of the Naysmith portrait of 1787, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Elizabeth gave birth to Robert Burns's first illegitimate child.[1] Burns's mother, who was fond of Elizabeth, wanted her son to marry her, however his brother Gilbert was against such a marriage. A fine of a guinea, paid into the parish poor-box was the penalty for this transgression[5] and he also had to do penance in church before the congregation.[7]

These circumstances resulted in Burns writing three poems:[1] some insignificant lines, when 'rough, rude ready-witted Rankine' twitted him over Miss Paton's condition, followed by the brilliant, but somewhat tasteless, outburst of sexual boastfulness of the 'Epistle to John Rankine' of Adamhill.[5] In this poem, Burns describes his seduction in terms of the field. The 'poacher-court' got to hear of the 'paitrick hen' he had brought down with his 'gun', so he had to 'thole the blethers' and pay the fee. However, he is quite unrepentant; for, as soon as her 'clockin'-time is by' and the child is born, he promises himself further 'sportin' by and by' to get value for his guinea.

When baby "bonnie Betty" was born Burns expressed fatherly tenderness, forgetting his earlier masculine posturing. In a Poet's welcome to his 'Love-begotten Daughter'[3] or alternatively 'his bastard wean' we find :

"Welcome! lily bonie, sweet, wee dochter,
Tho' ye come here a wee unsought for,
And tho' your comin' I hae fought for,
Baith kirk and queir;
Yet, by my faith, ye're no unwrought for
That I shall swear!...
Lord grant that thou may ay inherit
Thy mither's person, grace, an' merit,
An' thy poor, worthless daddie's spirit,
Without his failins,
Twill please me mair to see thee
Than stocket mailens...

No poems seem to have been inspired directly by Elizabeth Paton,[1] but she may have been in the poet's mind when he wrote "The Rantin' Dog." A few lines in Burns's first Commonplace Book dated September 1784 relate to her.

In 1784, in the song "O Tibbie, I hae seen the day", which were addressed to Isabella Steven, the daughter of a Tarbolton farmer, Burns addresses her with:

"There lives a lass beside yon park,
I'd rather hae her in her sark.
Than you, wi' a' your thousan mark;
That gars you look sae high."

In this piece the poet may have been referring to Elizabeth as the "lass beside yon park" although he never confirms this.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Burns Encyclopedia Retrieved : 13 February 2012
  2. ^ Hecht, Page 54
  3. ^ a b c Hecht, Page 56
  4. ^ Mackay, Page 139
  5. ^ a b c d e Hecht, Page 55
  6. ^ a b Mackay, Page 137
  7. ^ Annandale, Page 31
  8. ^ Mackay, Page 80
  • Annandale, Charles (1890). The Works of Robert Burns. Vol 1. Glasgow : Blackie & Son.
  • Hecht, Hans (1936). Robert Burns. London : William Hodge.
  • Mackay, James (2004). Burns. A Biography of Robert Burns. Darvel : Alloway Publishing. ISBN 0907526-85-3.