Did suffragette Emily Davison commit suicide?
Emily Wilding Davison became a martyr to the suffragette cause when, on June 4, 1913, she was struck, and fatally injured, by the King’s horse, Anmer, during the running of the Derby at Epsom. Her intentions in dashing onto the racecourse as the backmarkers rounded Tattenham Corner are not entirely clear, but she was knocked unconscious and died at Epsom Cottage Hospital four days later from a ‘fracture at the base of the skull’ without regaining consciousness.
Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain her behaviour. Some eyewitnesses suggested that Davison ran out in a reckless suicide attempt, others that she attempted to bring down Anmer. Subsequent analysis of contemporary newsreel footage, though, suggests that she was, in fact, attempting to advertise the ‘Votes for Women’ campaign by tying a banner, or flag, to the bridle of a half-tonne racehorse galloping at full speed.
Indeed, following the tragic accident, two such banners were found on her body. The fact that Davison and fellow suffragettes were reportedly seen practising tackling horses on Morpeth Common beforehand adds weight to this argument. Historians have also pointed out that Davison was in possession of an expensive return ticket for her travel to Epsom Downs and had written a postcard to her sister, Letitia, about a proposed visit to Paris shortly afterwards.