My eldest sister Margaret was stunning, a combination of beauty, brains and poise not seen since Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was only a year older than me, but I could never catch up to her. I felt destined to always be her shadow, to wait on her as an old maid when she married a handsome king. When Prince Edward of England took refuge with my father, everyone thought he would marry Margaret. I thought so too, but I couldn’t help falling in love with him the second I saw him. He was handsome and thoughtful and commanding. You knew instinctively he would protect his loved ones like a lion.
We married at York, standing in the church door because the whole city turned out to welcome us. Edward was a good king, strong and successful, but he always listened to me. The strength of our trust saved the lives of the leaders of Calais and supported Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet they still read today. Edward and I had many children and grandchildren. There wasn’t a woman in Europe, no matter how beautiful, who didn’t envy me, plain and plump though I was. I lead a blessed life.
My daughter Joan was one of the first English victims of the Black Death. More than a third of our subjects died within a couple years. Whole villages were left to the dead and no one knows why. Maybe God’s judgment or an ill-conjunction in the heavens. Because we didn’t know what caused it, we never felt safe. We didn’t know why it spared who it spared the first time and every time it came back, we feared the world would end.
I lived for my children, but I couldn’t save them. William Hatfield, Blanche, Thomas, William and Joan all died as infants. Mary and Margaret died in the same season, both newlywed teenagers. Lionel, my favorite son, fell ill suddenly fetching his Italian bride. I never even saw his grave.
I was the luckiest woman in Europe, married to a wise and handsome man who was devoted to me and protected me. I had every material wish answered for, from jewels to sumptuous foods to decadent clothing. I had the children I’d always wished for. I’d always envied my sister growing up, but by the time I was fifteen, the known world envied me. And I died with a heart scarred and half-healed.
It is easy and human to envy someone who seems to have everything, but the simple truth is that not only have you no idea what lies inside their heart, you have no idea what lies in their future. It is our nature to experience ecstasy and despair and our character lies in how we navigate them. It is a waste of our limited time and energy to be jealous of someone at the peak of Fortune, because her wheel is always turning. Focus on savoring your own blessings and cease to envy what you know to be a temporary situation for another.
Phillippa of Hainault