éminence grise


émi·​nence grise ā-mē-näⁿs-ˈgrēz How to pronounce éminence grise (audio)
plural éminences grises ā-mē-näⁿs-ˈgrēz How to pronounce éminence grise (audio)
: a confidential agent
especially : one exercising unsuspected or unofficial power
: a respected authority
specifically : elder statesman
the éminence grise of classical music

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Éminence grise (literally, "gray eminence") was the sobriquet of Père Joseph (1577-1638), the Capuchin monk who served as secretary to Cardinal Richelieu, Chief Minister under Louis XIII. Richelieu's ambition for French domination of Europe aligned neatly with Joseph's hope to convert European Protestants to Roman Catholicism. Joseph's nickname came from the color of his cloak-and from the fact that Richelieu himself was known as the Éminence Rouge (Red Eminence). The term éminence grise came to mean a loyal confidant of any powerful individual, but recently the word has alternately come to mean a respected senior member within a field or profession (the gray in this case perhaps alluding to the color of an elder's hair).

Examples of éminence grise in a Sentence

the revered éminence grise of Civil War historians
Recent Examples on the Web Belafonte was 57, an eminence grise in entertainment, and his participation motivated lots of artists who admired him. Rob Tannenbaum, New York Times, 14 Feb. 2024 Federer serving in the Sinatra/Clooney part as the eminence grise. Jason Gay, WSJ, 24 Sep. 2022 That emotionally astute author, the eminence grise, the institutional memory. Washington Post, 29 Dec. 2021 Matthews is an eminence grise of television news, his pugilistic and red-cheeked persona familiar to viewers from countless election nights. BostonGlobe.com, 2 Mar. 2020 In the world of the candle obsessed, Diptyque is the eminence grise. Kathleen Hou, The Cut, 16 Jan. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'éminence grise.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French, literally, "gray eminence," nickname of Père Joseph (François du Tremblay) †1638 French monk and diplomat, confidant of Cardinal Richelieu who was known as Éminence Rouge "red eminence"; from the colors of their respective habits

First Known Use

1925, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of éminence grise was in 1925


Dictionary Entries Near éminence grise

Cite this Entry

“éminence grise.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/%C3%A9minence%20grise. Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

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