On this day in history : 4th June 1913 – Militant suffragette Emily Wilding Davison runs out in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby…. She dies of her injuries a few days later….

Emily was born on the 11th of October 1872 at Blackheath, London…. She won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway College, where she studied literature….she then continued on to Oxford University – but would have been unable to obtain a degree as it was not permissible for women to do so at the time…. She went on to become a teacher….

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Emily Davison in 1908 – Public domain

In 1906 Emily joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which had been founded by Emmeline Pankhurst…. Three years later Emily had given up her job and was working full-time for the Cause…. Her activities saw her imprisoned several times and by 1911 she was becoming more militant….

She had certainly proved that she was prepared to die for the Movement…. In 1912 she was jailed for ten months after setting fire to post boxes in London…. Whilst in prison she went on hunger-strike and in response to force-feeding threw herself from a balcony….

“I did it deliberately, and with all my power, because I felt that by nothing but the sacrifice of human life would the nation be brought to realise the horrible torture our women face. If I had succeeded I am sure that forcible feeding could not in all conscience have been resorted to again”….

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Emily Davison – Public domain

Thousands of people had attended the Epsom Derby….King George V and Queen Mary were amongst them…. One of the King’s horses, ‘Anmer’, was running in the Derby and they were there to watch…. Ridden by Herbert Jones, jockey and horse were easy to spot – sporting the King’s colours of purple, scarlet and gold….

Epsom racecourse has two long straights with a sweeping curve at one end – rather like a horseshoe in shape…. The bend where the curve turns to the home-straight is called ‘Tottenham Corner’….and this is where Emily had positioned herself….

As the horses came around the corner with Anmer third from last, Emily – holding the purple, white and green flag of the Suffragette Movement – ducked under the guard rail and stepped into the path of the King’s horse and reached for the reins…. Anmer, who would have been travelling at around 35mph, crashed into her and fell…. Jones was thrown and knocked unconscious, the horse partially rolled on to him….but Anmer regained his feet and finished the race alone….

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Image: Arthur Barrett – Public domain

Both Emily and Herbert Jones were rushed to Epsom Cottage Hospital…. Jones suffered broken ribs, bruising and concussion…. Emily was operated on but died of her injuries four days later….

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Emily Wilding Davison under the King’s horse, 1913 – LSE Library via flickr – no known copyright restrictions

At the inquest the verdict was given:-

“That Miss Emily Wilding Davison died of a fracture of the base of the skull, caused by being accidentally knocked down by a horse through wilfully rushing on to the racecourse at Epsom Downs during the progress of the race for the Derby; death was due to misadventure”….

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Emily Davison towards the end of her life – Public domain

It is not known if Emily had pre-planned her actions – she had not discussed her intention with anyone…. She had another two flags upon her person….and in her handbag was a return train ticket and an invitation to a suffragette function that evening…. Perhaps it was a spur of the moment decision – or it has been suggested that she intended to fix her flag to Anmer….

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The return ticket found in Emily’s handbag – public domain

The King recorded in his diary that it was ‘a most regrettable and scandalous meeting’; Queen Mary in hers called Emily a ‘horrid woman’….

Jockey Herbert Jones never truly got over the incident – but was physically well enough to ride Anmer at Ascot racecourse two weeks later….

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Public domain

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