BSECS President’s Prize Winner 2020 Back

We are delighted to announce the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies President’s Prize for 2020. The winner is Alison Daniell (University of Southampton) for her paper  ‘Of False Hair, Bolstered Hips and Witchcraft: The Regulation of Women’s Bodies and an Act of Parliament that Never Was’. This brilliant and surprising paper contains a discovery, which is that the well-known Matrimonial Act 1770, also known as the Hoops and Heels Act, which rendered null and void any marriages that men had been lured into by women pretending to be more beautiful than they were, by means of cosmetics, heels, or cork rumps, in fact never existed. This supposed act is mentioned quite often in scholarly material and beyond (featuring on a BBC radio show as recently as 2018). Alison has discovered that in fact it started life as a piece of late eighteenth-century satire proposing that men who are so idiotic as to be seduced by this make-up and other beauty enhancements should be punished for their stupidity with a fine of £100. Alison further reveals that the ‘Matrimonial Act’ started circulating as fake news in the late Nineteenth Century, when it was presented, conveniently shorn of the sting in the tale about men, as evidence of the shocking misogyny of the past. This scholarly and witty paper lays bare this story of satire and fake news, and reflects on how we use and abuse the past. We congratulate Alison, the announcement of whose prize was long-delayed for Covid-related reasons, for her excellent work.