"Arrested at the gates of the Palace!", Chief Inspector Rolfe, Emmeline Pankhurst, Mrs Pankhurst, Suffragette Buckingham Palace protest, Sylvia Pankhurst, Women's Social & Political UInion, WSPU< Suffragettes
100 years ago today, May 21 1914, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst led her Suffragettes on what proved to be their last ever major protest march. She had seen how the Irish had by means of a call to arms and dealing directly with the King, had successfully by-passed the British government. George V had responded to the threat of a “Currah Mutiny” by convening an Irish Conference to be held at Buckingham Palace. Mrs Pankhurst thus decided she would attempt to petition the King directly about the Votes for Women issue which Prime Minister Asquith continued to block.
The Suffragettes widely publicised the event because they wanted a big crowd there to see the protest, but this resulted in a huge police presence awaiting to intercept the Suffragettes, and also a big crowd of mostly anti-Suffragette men congregating outside the Palace.
A large number of Suffragettes congregated at Grosvenor Square, from where the march to the Palace headed down Park Lane and into the loop of Hyde Park Corner. But many of the protesters were soon encircled by a large number of mounted and foot police at Wellington Arch. The police successfully ‘kettled’ them, including Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes. It was the end of their involvement for the day, but they had their own big protest arranged for May 24 (more on this in 3 days time).
But Mrs Pankhurst and her main band of Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) supporters had forseen the police tactics and managed to avoid the cordon by turning off Park Lane, cutting through side streets and over Piccadilly before entering Green Park. This also outflanked another police line on Constitution Hill. They then headed through the trees of the park to the Palace.
Some of Mrs Pankhurst’s supporters were already in the crowd by the Victoria Memorial outside the Place, and started to make individual runs at the police line. Each woman was thrown back by the police into the crowd of young men by the Memorial who shouted at the women that they ought to be burnt as they beat them up.
Mrs Pankhurst and her band then took the police by surprise by suddenly appearing out of the park, passing behind the police line that was holding back the crowds by the memorial. The women were at the gates of the Palace by the time a police inspector gave the order for his men to turn and deal with them.
Mrs Pankhurst was grabbed from behind by a burly policemen, Chief Inspector Frank Rolfe of A Division. His armed clasped around her waist, he carried her off with her tiny frame dangling a foot above the ground. This took place in front of a knot of reporters and photographers, one of whom took a shot of the scene. This photograph, of Mrs Pankhurst being carried away, is perhaps the most iconic of all the images taken during the Suffragettes’ militant fight for the vote.
Spotting the reporters, Mrs Pankhurst did not waste the opportunity to grab some additional headlines. She shouted, “Arrested at the gates of the palace! Tell the King!”
She went to prison. More on what happened next in the next weeks as various Suffragette centenaries come around.
At some point in history it was mistakenly recorded that Chief Inspector Rolfe died 2 weeks later of heart failure! And if you google the scene, that’s what comes up. But it’s not true. He actually died 2 months later from an infection, having received an injury via the most mundane of accidents – tripping over a rope barrier during a routine piece of police work.