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A Kitty Cat Saved the Life of Dylan Minnette's Ancestor

Updated: Jun 13

The 13 Reasons Why star and Wallows band frontman is here today in his present form, in part because a cat saved his ancestor's life. | BY MIKE BATIE

Dylan Minnette in '13 Reasons Why.' Image via Netflix

As Dylan Minnette's successful Netflix show 13 Reasons Why launches its third season this week, it's likely you know him as Clay Jensen in that show, the broody teen thrust into some dramatic and traumatic situations.


Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen in the Netflix hit show 13 Reasons Why / Image via Netflix

Dylan is also a frontman in the band Wallows, which he formed together with friends Braeden Lemasters and Cole Preston. The phenomenally talented group has been playing to sold-out shows on tour in North American and Europe.


Henry Wyatt—Dylan Minnette's 17th Great Grandfather

Dylan Minnette is descended from the noble family Wyatt, which thrived in England during the Tudor period. Dylan's 17th great grandfather on this line, Sir Henry Wyatt, is of particular interest owing to the circumstances in which his life was saved by a cat.


Portrait of Dylan Minnette's 17th great grandfather, Sir Henry Wyatt, done in his later years of life. The portrait was painted by famous painter Hans Holbein the Younger.

Dylan Minnette's line of descent from Sir Henry Wyatt. / Chart by Mike Batie

Sir Henry Wyatt was born in England in 1460 to Sir Thomas Richard Wyatt and Margaret Bailiffe. During Wyatt's early years, two lines of the royal family were fighting over control of the throne: the House of York and the House of Lancaster.


Minnette's ancestor, Henry Wyatt, was loyal to Henry Tudor (left), who sought to take the throne from King Richard III (right).

Richard III (from the House of York) was on the throne at the time, and his rival, Henry Tudor (from the House of Lancaster), just couldn't wait to be king. Dylan Minnette's 17th great grandpappy, Henry Wyatt, was a supporter of Henry Tudor. It is believed that Wyatt, with other supporters of Henry Tudor, participated in an uprising against Richard III, known as Buckingham's Rebellion, but it didn't work out as planned.


Imprisoned in Scotland

Wyatt must have gone up to Scotland to try and secure Scottish support for his pal Henry Tudor's invasion to take the throne back from Richard, but while there he was captured by Richard's Scottish supporters and imprisoned.


During his imprisonment, Wyatt was tortured for supporting Henry Tudor's campaign to take the throne. One of the methods of torture recorded by the Wyatt family was the use of horse-barnacles (an instrument used to pinch the nose of an unruly horse) to hold open Wyatt's mouth while he was force-fed mustard and vinegar.


Rendering of a "horse barnacle," which was used to hold open Henry Wyatt's mouth to force-feed him mustard and vinegar.

Some family legends say that Wyatt was racked—a torture method that would stretch a person until their cartilage, ligaments, and bones snapped, dislocating all the joints.


The rack was a brutal torture device meant to dislocate the joints. While there are no surviving records attesting as to whether or not Henry Wyatt was racked, some Wyatt family lore says that he was.

Suffice to say, medieval prisons were not a place you wanted to spend your days. And Henry Wyatt spent years in prison during Richard III's reign. You see, back then there were no taxpayer dollars that went toward giving you three square meals a day as a prisoner. If you wanted to eat, your family or friends needed to bring food to you in jail, or you starved. Also, your prison cell would likely have been stone floor and walls with no heating.


In these conditions, far away from England with no friends or family to bring him food, and nothing to keep him warm, Wyatt was on the verge of starving and freezing to death. Wyatt was imprisoned in a cold, narrow tower with no bed and his clothes insufficient to keep him warm.


One day, a cat came down into the dungeon to Wyatt, entering his cell through the bars on the window. After meeting each other's acquaintance, and certainly some petting and purring, the female cat curled up on Wyatt's chest. Imagine, after being imprisoned, tortured, starving, and freezing, what a relief it must have been to have this furry, friendly feline curl up on his chest and keep him warm.


A painting commemorating the kitty that saved the life of Dylan Minnette's ancestor, Henry Wyatt. *Cat not to scale.

Wyatt's new and only friend took quite a liking to him, and she visited him every day, multiple times a day. Soon the cat was bringing Wyatt gifts: pigeons she had hunted. After some imploring, Wyatt was able to convince the prison guard to cook the pigeons that the cat was bringing to him in his cell so that he would not starve. The guard obliged, and cooked the pigeons for Wyatt as the cat brought them on a daily basis. Warming him, feeding him, and offering companionship in his lonely and terrible conditions, there's no doubt that the cat saved his life.


Cats: guardian protectors of Dylan Minnette's family since 1483 AD. / Image via Dylan Minnette's Twitter account.

Liberated from Imprisonment

Two years went by while Henry Wyatt was imprisoned, and in 1485, Richard III was defeated and killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor's forces. Henry Tudor ascended the throne as King Henry VII of England. One of the first acts of Henry VII as king was to liberate Wyatt from imprisonment.


Dylan Minnette's 17th great grandfather was handsomely rewarded by both Henry VII (left) and his son, Henry VIII (right) for his loyalty and service.

Wyatt was rewarded for his faithfulness and the hardships he endured in support of Henry's claim to the throne. Some of these rewards included a place on the King's Privy Council, official lodgings at the royal palace, made constable of castles, made Master of the King's Jewels, and made a guardian to the king's son, the future King Henry VIII, who would later invest Wyatt as a knight.


Henry Wyatt died on 10 November 1537, at the age of 80 (rare for those days), and was buried at Milton, near Gravesend. Thanks to the friendship of a kitty cat who befriended him during imprisonment, 54 years of life were added Henry Wyatt's days.


The friendship of this cat saved the life of Sir Henry Wyatt and added 54 more years to his life.

Season 3 of Dylan Minnette's hit show 13 Reasons Why is now streaming on Netflix. You can also catch him on tour with the Wallows band. Check here for tour dates.


Dylan Minnette and I (the author) are 7th cousins through our common ancestor, George Faust.


About the Author

As a genealogist and family historian, I enjoy researching my own family tree, and the family trees of others. It gives me a sense of someone’s background and what makes them who they are today. To see their roots, and where they come from, is inspiring to me. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of notable figures.


—Mike Batie


Have a question? Comment? Shoot me a message using the contact form on the About page.


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