Exactly 100 years ago, Emily Davison was trampled by King George V’s horse Anmer when she burst onto the track at the Epsom Derby. She died four days later from a fractured skull and internal injuries caused by the incident.
She was a courageous campaigner for women’s suffrage, who had already shown herself willing to put her life on the line in the course of the struggle for women’s votes. She’d been imprisoned no less than nine times, force-fed, her cell flooded by the authorities, and flung herself down a staircase in Holloway prison.
On the night of the 1911 census, Davison hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster overnight so that on the census form her place of residence that night would be recorded as “The House of Commons.” In 1999 a plaque to commemorate that event was set in place by Tony Benn.
But her very courage has allowed detractors over the years to brand her as a suicidal obsessive, not the principled and courageous campaigner that she was.
Now, a detailed analysis of the film from the three newsreel cameras that recorded the incident, has shown that Davison did not deliberately martyr herself, but was almost certainly trying to attach a ‘votes for women’ sash to the bridle of the King’s horse.
The film of that day still has the power to shock, 100 years on:
The fatal incident occurs at about 6.08, but it’s well worth watching the entire film.
PS: We should also remember the jockey, Herbert Jones. He suffered mild concussion in the incident, but was “haunted by that poor woman’s face” for the rest of his life. In 1928, at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst, Jones laid a wreath “to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison”. In 1951, Jones committed suicide in a gas-filled kitchen.