Éminence grise

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An éminence grise (French pronunciation: ​[eminɑ̃s ɡʁiz]) or grey eminence is a powerful decision-maker or adviser who operates "behind the scenes" or in a non-public or unofficial capacity.


This phrase originally referred to François Leclerc du Tremblay, the right-hand man of Cardinal Richelieu.[1] Leclerc was a Capuchin friar who was renowned for his beige robe attire, as beige was termed "grey" in that era. The style His Eminence is used to address or refer to a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.[2] Although Leclerc never achieved the rank of cardinal, those around him addressed him as such in deference to the considerable influence this "grey" friar held over "His Eminence the Cardinal".[3]

Leclerc is popularly referred to in several works. Aldous Huxley wrote an English biography of Leclerc entitled Grey Eminence. There is also an 1873 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, L'Éminence Grise, which depicts him descending the grand staircase of the Palais Cardinal. Leclerc is referred to in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers as the character Father Joseph, a powerful associate of Richelieu and one to be feared.

Historical examples[edit]

  • Empress Jia and Empress Dowager Cixi are two examples of women who essentially ruled Imperial Chinese dynasties. As women were barred from reigning in their own right, the history of China is littered with cases of women exercising political power through their male relatives.[4]
  • Dick Cheney was described as an éminence grise of the George W. Bush administration, "a powerful but uncompromising politician with the ear of the president" regarding matters of national security and foreign policy.[5]
  • Former diplomat and policy maker Dennis Ross was "viewed as the éminence grise, a sort of Rasputin who casts a spell over secretaries of state and presidents", according to Middle East experts who worked with him during the Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.[6]
  • Jarosław Kaczyński is a Polish party Law and Justice leader. Despite being officially just a poseł (MP), he is often the person behind decisions taken by the PM and the president.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

The character Marquis de Carabas has this role in the novel and television series, Neverwhere.

In the game, Crusader Kings II, the "Grey Eminence" trait grants a character a high bonus for diplomatic ability.

In season 4 of the U.S. version of House of Cards, First Lady Claire Underwood becomes the éminence grise behind Acting President Donald Blythe.

In the british books A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is the owner of a great brothel in the capital and the "éminence grise" behind the king and also behind the lords of various regions of the Seven Kingdoms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Connell, D.P. (1968). Richelieu. New York: The World Publishing Company. 
  2. ^ Historical reference to address in the Roman Catholic Church
  3. ^ Mould, Michael (2011). The Routledge Dictionary of Cultural References in Modern French. New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-136-82573-6. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  4. ^ McMahon, Keith (2013). Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 16. ISBN 9781442222908. Retrieved 28 February 2017. 
  5. ^ Walsh, Kenneth T. (January 23, 2006). "The Cheney Factor: How the scars of public life shaped the vice president's unyielding view of executive power". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on January 17, 2006. Lawrence Wilkerson, a Cheney critic said: "The power behind the throne — an eminence grise — that's what Dick Cheney has become." 
  6. ^ Cooper, Helene; Landler, Mark (21 May 2011). "Obama’s Peace Tack Contrasts With Key Aide, Friend of Israel". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2017. 
  7. ^ Poland protests. Polish leaders back down on media restrictions but standoff continues