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) \

Definition of éminence grise

1 : a confidential agent especially : one exercising unsuspected or unofficial power
2 : 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 Matthews is an eminence grise of television news, his pugilistic and red-cheeked persona familiar to viewers from countless election nights. BostonGlobe.com, "US announces troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as respite from violence ends," 2 Mar. 2020 In the world of the candle obsessed, Diptyque is the eminence grise. Kathleen Hou, The Cut, "This Valentine’s Day Candle Sells Out Every Year," 16 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'éminence grise.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of éminence grise

1925, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for éminence grise

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

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The first known use of éminence grise was in 1925

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Cite this Entry

“éminence grise.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/%C3%A9minence%20grise. Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

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