There was a following statement in Time magazine’s article (February 25) titled “Second Act” dealing with the step-down of the former Pope Benedict XVI:

The new Pope will be indebted to Benedict XVI. -- and even though he won't be in the Sistine Chapel when the voting takes place, Benedict is bound to influence the outcome. This sort of informal influence has proved powerful in other cultures--particularly premodern Japan, where retired shoguns and Emperors continued to make pivotal decisions. Thus, just by watching from the sidelines, Ratzinger will be subtly able to champion his conservative theological and social policies--an über-Pope of sorts.

This statement is true. Actually many incumbent Emperors were just nominal and powerless in Japan during the Middle Ages and controlled by retired emperors behind the curtain.

We call this “informal influence“ of the retired ruler or leader including chairman of a company ‘Insei – 院政 in Japanese, and ‘Readers English Japanese Dictionary’ at hand translates ‘Insei’ to ‘rule by a retired emperor – insei.”

Although Readers Dictionary shows the word “Insei,” as if it is already adopted to English language like 'Mikado' or ‘Shogun,’ I doubt its currency as an English word.

With that said, what is the English counterpart of “Insei” in shorter form, say two words, than “rule by a cloistered emperor”?

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  • @StJohnoftheCross: as close as that is, doesn't that refer to a non-ruler, say a regent or important civil servant unlikely to actually be such a nominal ruler, as opposed to a former ruler?
    – Mitch
    Apr 1, 2013 at 13:18
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    @Mitch That's why it's a comment; but a former ruler is at least nominally a non-ruler. English doesn't have a direct equivalent for insei because "rule by a retired monarch" is rather rare: most cause succession by dying! However, a retired/deselected prime minister could well still be the power behind his successor's throne. Apr 1, 2013 at 13:27
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    The Vatican has, in fact, decreed that Benedict is to be titled "pope emeritus" or "emeritus pope". That's not terribly relevant to this question, though. What Yoichi-san seems to want is a counterpart to regency, except on the other end of a reign. The problem is, the historical English term for a former king is "dead".
    – Marthaª
    Apr 1, 2013 at 14:23
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    It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a satisfactory answer to this question because it is very likely that an "English counterpart of 'Insei' in shorter form, say two words," does not in fact exist; and if this is so, it is because we in the West have not really had any need for such a term, since such a phenomenon as @Yoichi Oishi describes has been absent, or very nearly so, from our history. I think that Diocletian at Spalato and Charles V at Yuste are as close as we may approach, and it is not quite certain that they actually "ruled" while in retirement. Apr 2, 2013 at 23:28

3 Answers 3


Perhaps you want “elder statesman”, sometimes used to refer to a retired politician (especially one whom the current leaders consult).


Instead of a single word, there is an adjective that refers to the idea of "ex-ruler" and a phrase that refers to an insidious control.

First, the notion of ex-ruler:


has a Latin etymology, and incidentally became the official title for the retired pope.

The most common usage is in professor emeritus, who although retired, may bring considerable influence to bear, but is relieved of his more public duties (such as lecturing).

(Props to St John of the Cross.) The phrase

éminence grise

historically does not refer to an ex-ruler (Wikipedia), but carries the connotation of an insidious control.

  • Hi Rajah. I don't see how this answers the question. Yoichi-san wasn't asking what Benedict will be called, but what the English term is for retired kings who advise the current king.
    – Marthaª
    Apr 1, 2013 at 14:19
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    The title "Pope Emeritus" was announced on February 26 and is a matter of record. Emeritus simply means "retired". This doesn't answer the question, though, which is about a rule by influence; almost a clandestine affair. Apr 1, 2013 at 14:21
  • I think one difference is that in Europe, kings have never officially retired. Apr 1, 2013 at 15:35
  • @PeterShor Well, Edward VIII did; and several Queens of the Netherlands have too. But constitutional monarchies have more safeguards against eminences grises than absolute monarchies. Apr 1, 2013 at 15:49
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    Thanks you for the comments. While I understand the reasons for the downvote, emeritus is a neutral title that conveys both the notions of being relieved of duty, yet retaining influence. Of note is that this was indeed the announced title (thanks, @StJohnoftheCross, I did not know that). The OP said in comments that insei has a sinister connotation, but emeritus does not connote that. I'm thinking éminence grise is closer. Perhaps St John of the Cross should proffer it as an answer, instead of as a comment?
    – rajah9
    Apr 2, 2013 at 13:35

Perhaps the closest equivalent is puppet government:

a government which is endowed with the outward symbols of authority but in which direction and control are exercised by another power [M-W Unabridged]

If you wanted to coin a term, you could call it a puppetocracy.

  • A puppet is an object manipulated by a puppeteer, who could be liken to a retired Emperor or leader.To me, puppet government seems to be the object or the opposite word to 'Insei' rather than its equvalent.. Apr 1, 2013 at 21:46
  • It follows from this definition of puppet: "one whose acts are controlled by an outside force or influence" [M-W]
    – Gnawme
    Apr 1, 2013 at 22:10
  • BTW, Google Translate renders 院政 in English as "cloister government."
    – Gnawme
    Apr 1, 2013 at 23:50

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