The Epsom Derby Suffragette


The Epsom Derby is the richest and perhaps most prestigious flat race in the British equestrian calendar. Run every year at Epson Downs over a distance of 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards, this race, the original “Derby”, is the oldest continually run sporting event in the world, and was first held all the way back in 1779.

This year’s Derby Day on June 1st marks the centenary of a particularly noteworthy event in the Derby’s history. On June 4th 1913, suffragette Emily Davison ran out to the course at Tattenham Corner and bought down King George V’s horse Anmer. The incident, considered a form of direct action on behalf of the Votes for Women movement, created a martyr of Davison after her death on June 8th from resultant injuries.

The suffragette was hit quickly by Anmer and with great force in what is still a horrific scene, and the fact that it involved the King’s horse lead to maximum publicity and controversy. Debate has raged long and hard as to whether Davison’s actions were international or accidental – whether this was suicide or a protest gone dreadfully wrong. Many curiosities with the event add confusion to Davison’s intent. For example, while she was perceived by some as a loose cannon within the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), she bought a return ticket back to London on the day of the Derby, and was supposedly planning to visit her sister in France in the days following the Derby.

The recent insightful Clare Balding documentary Secrets of a Suffragette has shed more light on the confusion over this notorious event however. In Sunday’ nights documentary, Balding presented a fresh examination of that fateful day, with additional footage and new circumstantial evidence.

It is now thought that instead of an act of suicide or confusion, Davison directly attempted to seek out the King’s horse to attach a “Votes for Women” scarf to Anmer’s bridle. With a combination of new footage and replay technology, it is though that Davison would have been able to identify the bright colours of the Herbert Jones, the King’s jockey, much further away than previously thought. Replay technology also shows she was clearly carrying something in her hand, and a split second before the collision attempts to grab the bridle.

There may always be mystery behind Davison’s intent however, and the event will remain a curious and infamous chapter in the Derby’s illustrious history.

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