The Times tells the story of the original eminence grise
The most famous painting of the original éminence grise, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicts the French monk in his habit, descending the stairs of the Palais Cardinal, the magnificent Paris residence that Cardinal Richelieu had had built for himself. The courtiers bow and scrape in obeisance to Father Joseph's veiled authority, but he appears to be buried in his Bible, oblivious to the fawning.
Ben MacIntyre, a Times columnist sought to keep the Lord Ashcroft affair still simmering by comparing him to the original “Eminence Grise” of history. It is a far-fetched analogy, but, as a French specialist, I am grateful to him for filling a gap in my historical knowledge
Ben MacIntyre tells us that the name of the original éminence grise was François Leclerc du Tremblay, who was more familiarly called Father Joseph. He was the shadowy adviser to Cardinal Richelieu, and he died nearly 400 years ago. Father Joseph was, in theory, one of the lowlier minions of Louis XIII’s court, a mere secretary to Richelieu, the king’s chief minister. In reality, he was a figure of immense prestige and considerable menace, Richelieu’s confessor, confidant and secret agent, de facto foreign minister, warmonger and scourge of those whom he deemed heretics.
The inconspicuous friar dreamt of launching another crusade against the Turks and also of forcing all of Europe’s Protestants back into the Catholic fold. He had a profound impact on the course of European history and his ruthlessness helped to prolong the bloody Thirty Years War
Father Joseph came to be seen as the most powerful politician in France, his influence eclipsing that of his patron Richelieu. As with squirrels, the grey can drive out the red.
In spite of his power, he remained all but invisible, his grey eminence in sharp contrast to the flaming scarlet cardinal’s robes of Richelieu himself, the red eminence. His power was great, but cloaked and secretive. He was trusted by a powerful few, feared by his rivals, and a mystery to everyone else: the three essential characteristics of the éminence grise.