Historic Cases of Hidden Power

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Historic Cases of "Power Behind the Throne": Part One

Grigori Rasputin, Edith Wilson, and Zhou Enlai were three of the most influential people of the twentieth century. None of them were in the primary position of power. They were all "the power behind the throne".


  • Grigori Yefimovich Novykh (Rasputin) was born to a peasant Russian peasant in 1869.
  • Although he entered the monastery at age 18, he did not become a monk.
  • He married and had 4 children.
  • His promiscuity earned him the surname Rasputin, which means "debauched one".
  • Rasputin was a self-proclaimed holy man, living off the donations of peasants for many years. 
  • He had developed a reputation as having healing powers. Historical documents suggest these powers may have been genuine.
  • The Russian Court had developed an interest in mysticism and Rasputin, with his reputation for healing was welcomed into it.
  • After healing the hunting dog of a member of the Royal Family, he came to the attention of Tsar Nicholas II. 
  • Nicholas' heir, Alexis suffered hemophilia and was not expected to live. Rasputin was asked by Tsarina Alexandria to "lay his hands" upon him.
  • After this, Alexis' condition improved significantly.
  • This cemented Rasputin's influence with the Royal Family, especially after Rasputin warned that Alexis' fate and that of the Romanov dynasty was linked to him.
  • Rasputin gained notoriety after having numerous affairs with aristocratic women. At one time it was rumored the Tsarina was among his conquests.
  • In 1915 Nicholas II left the court to lead his troops on the Eastern front. Rasputin's influence reached its peak.
  • Although Alexandria in charge, Rasputin was the one making the decisions. He was appointed as Alexandria's personal adviser.
  • During this period he influenced the appointment of church and government officials including cabinet ministers.
  • Rasputin also welded some influence over Russia's military.
  • It was ultimately his influence over the Royal Family that led to his assassination in December 1916.
  • His influence resulted in the Tsar becoming separated from his people. The country lost faith in its Ruler.
  • Nicholas II made many poor decisions, while under the influence of Rasputin. These decisions ultimately lead to the fall of the Romanov Dynasty.


  • Edith Wilson was born Edith Bolling in 1872, in Wytheville, Virginia.
  • Her father's family tree shows her to be a direct descendant of Pocahontas.
  • She had eleven siblings, although two died at birth.
  • She was proud of her Southern heritage, and she and her family were staunch supporters of the Confederate States of America.
  • In 1896 she met and married her first husband, Norman Galt. He was a jeweler from Washington D.C.
  • They had one child who lived only a few days. She was unable to have any further children.
  • Mr. Galt died suddenly in 1908.
  • In 1915 she was introduced to the widowed US President Woodrow Wilson.
  • Rumors circulated that the couple had been having an affair before the death of President Wilson's first wife. The rumors also suggested President Wilson and Mrs. Galt had murdered the then First Lady to be together.
  • The rumors reached fever pitch and resulted in President Wilson, suggesting they end their engagement. Instead, they waited for a year after the first Mrs. Wilson's death to marry.
  • Mrs. Wilson was the First Lady from 1915 to 1921.
  • In 1919, aged 62 and while serving as President Mr. Wilson suffered a stroke. This left him incapacitated and partially paralyzed.
  • Mrs. Wilson became the only communication link between President Wilson and his Cabinet. All communications were screened by Mrs. Wilson.
  • She alone decided on the matters that were important enough to justify discussion with her bed-ridden husband.
  • When the Secretary of State conducted several cabinet meetings in the absence of the President (and Mrs. Wilson), Mrs. Wilson campaigned for his removal.
  • A foreign representative's diplomatic credentials were not accepted until he removed an aide who had made disparaging comments about Mrs. Wilson.
  • As President Wilson's health declined, Mrs. Wilson began serving as a conduit to the President, attending meetings on his behalf and then passing on the information she deemed appropriate.
  • History suggests some of President Wilson's policies were disrupted, by the actions and views, of Mrs. Wilson. 
  • Both international and domestic policy was shaped by Mrs. Wilson's views over this time.
  • Mrs. Wilson claimed her role was a benign stewardship. Historians disagree, claiming she was effectively fulfilling the role of President, in all but name. She remained in that role until the end of President Wilson's term in 1921.
  • Mrs. Wilson died of congestive heart failure aged 89.


  • Zhou Enlai (Zhou) was born in China, in 1898.
  • Zhou became interested in politics while studying in Japan.
  • When he returned to China he joined the Communist Party and became active in student politics. He was arrested as a result for protesting in 1920.
  • Zhou left China for France where he remained for several years. He was the organizer for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Europe throughout his time there.
  • He returned to China and married in 1925.
  • Over time Zhou advanced through the ranks of the Communist Party.
  • In 1927 Zhou became Director of the Military for the CCP Committee.
  • He was elected to the CCP Central Committee in 1927.
  • Zhou played a major part in the Nachang Uprising in 1927. When Nationalists reclaimed the city, he was forced to escape to Shanghai.
  • Following the Long March Zhou was appointed Chief Negoiator and had the job of forming an alliance with the Nationalists. He was also instrumental in establishing a united front to stop Japanese aggression in the region.
  • From 1945 Zhou maintained a close relationship with Mao Ze Dong (Mao), who relied on him for his diplomacy skills.
  • In 1949 he became the First Premier of the People's Republic of China. He remained in this role until his death in 1976.
  • Zhou also held the role of Foriegn Minister from 1949 to 1958.
  • This dual role meant that he played a significant part in shaping Chinese foreign policy and diplomacy.
  • Zhou was the architect of all major diplomatic policy for China over this period.
  • His successes included the Chinese-Soviet Treaty of Alliance in 1950. It was Zhou who negotiated the historic meeting between Chairman Mao and US President Harry Truman in 1971, and his later meeting with President Richard Nixon in 1972.
  • Zhou has been described as scholars as the "single most important stabilizing factor" over the time of Mao's Cultural Revolution. He played a key role in restoring Deng Xiaoping to power.
  • Many believe that Zhou was the true ruler of China over this period. Scholars argue that Zhou ran the country while Chairman Mao focused on the ideology of Communism.
  • Zhou died of cancer in 1976.


We extensively searched scholarly articles, newspaper stories, historic research, and various other articles to determine the people who have been described as "the power behind the throne". Once we had identified a list of people, we cross-referenced it with the 2019 list of G20 countries to determine which players met these criteria. Those who did not come from G20 countries were excluded. We then considered each of the people on the list. We reviewed the aforementioned sources and considered the degree of influence each had played in shaping the future of their country. By doing this, we established the people we considered played the most significant roles. We researched each of these people extensively to establish a reliable timeline and biography of their lives. We also researched each of the leaders they served under to corroborate the true extent of their influence.
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Historic Cases of "Power Behind the Throne": Part Two

Three additional examples of cases where "power behind the throne" existed in powerful nations are Sonia Gandhi of India, José María Córdoba Montoya of Mexico, and Boris Berezovsky of Russia.


Short Biography:

  • Sonia Gandhi, whose original name was Edvige Antonia Albina Maino, was born on December 9, 1946, at Lusiana, Veneto region, Italy.
  • As an Italian-born Indian politician she served as President of the Indian National Congress Party from 1998 to 2017 and chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, a coalition of center-left parties.
  • She was married to India's Ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated in 1984.
  • In 1998, Gandhi agreed to become President of the then-struggling Congress Party. (Source 11)
  • Her party won the 2004 Parliamentary elections but failed to secure an absolute majority and subsequently formed a new coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
  • Although she won her constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress Party suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the opposition party BJP, and the UPA government was dethroned from power.

How she gained power and used it.

  • Sonia Gandhi took the responsibility of the Grand Old Party when it was facing some of its most difficult years.
  • In her electoral debut in 1999, she was fielded from two constituencies and won both.
  • She also became the leader of the parliament in 1999.
  • In 2004, her party made an unexpected return to power but Gandhi turned down the post of the Prime Minister.
  • However, Gandhi was considered the power behind the throne as Manmohan Singh, who became the Prime Minister was a quiet personality.
  • She was considered the main backer for several key welfare schemes of the UPA government and was also considered the main force in the UPA government while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was considered just a front.


Short Biography:

  • José Cordoba Montoya was born on June 1, 1950, in La Ciotat, a French commune.
  • He studied engineering and graduated from the École Polytechnique de Paris, and obtained a Ph.D. in Economics from a Standford University.
  • He served as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1970s.
  • During the late 70s he was invited to teach at the College of Mexico, while also serving as an advisor to Francisco Gil Díaz, then-Assistant Secretary of Revenue of the Secretariat of the Treasury.
  • In 1980, Montoya joined the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and came in contact with Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
  • In 1987, Salinas was nominated as the PRI presidential candidate and as he won the election and became the President, Montoya was appointed Head of the Presidential Office.
  • As of this date Montoya remains away from public and political life.
  • His only recent mention was when in 2013, Luis Téllez Kuenzler, President of the Mexican Stock Exchange, acknowledged Montoya as his personal advisor.

How he gained power and used it.

  • With the unconditional support of President Salinas, Montoya managed to accumulate a large amount of power and was considered to be responsible for making the most important decisions defining Mexico's direction (such as the Free Trade Agreement).
  • He was also described as the power behind the throne or Salinas’ "alter ego" and nothing that had not been previously approved by Montoya would get the approval of President Salinas.
  • He was also hailed the great architect and strong arm of the entire Salinista-Zedillista project.
  • The press also often dubbed Montoya as the Vice President of Mexico.
  • The Foreign Minister's role was also largely diminished as Washington’s point man, Negroponte, consulted more with Montoya than with the President.


Short Biography:

  • Boris Abramovich Berezovsky was born on January 23, 1946, in Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R. and died on March 23, 2013, in Ascot, Berkshire, England.
  • He studied electronics and computer science, and completed his postgraduation in 1975 and subsequently earned his Ph.D. in Decision Making in 1983.
  • In 1989, he set up LogoVaz, the U.S.S.R.’s first capitalist car dealership.
  • With profits accumulated from Logovaz, Berezovsky expanded his interests into oil and banking.
  • He eventually became one of Russia’s famed “oligarchs,” who made their fortunes in the chaotic last years of the U.S.S.R. and divested their wealth into political power in the new, capitalist Russia.

How he gained power and used it.

  • After expanding into oil and banking, he cultivated his relationship with Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s bodyguard and through Yeltsin’s youngest daughter got an entry into Kremlin.
  • After entering the Kremlin, he won financial control of the former Soviet state airline, Aeroflot, and of Russian Public Television (ORT), Russia’s main television channel.
  • He also funded Yeltsin’s reelection as President and was rewarded as Deputy Secretary of the Security Council in 1996 and as Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1998.
  • His television channel also supported Yeltsin’s designated successor, Vladimir Putin.
  • He was famously known as Godfather of the Kremlin.
  • He was also reported as the power behind the throne.

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From Part 02
  • "Italy-born Sonia Maino met Rajiv Gandhi while both were studying in Cambridge and both managed to stay away from politics till the death of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi's younger son - the son she was grooming for politics."
  • "Compelled to pick up the reins of the Grand Old Party when it was facing some of its most difficult years under Sitaram Kesri, Sonia Gandhi survived the early years with the huge support from Gandhi family loyalists."
  • "For her electoral debut in 1999, she was fielded from two constituencies -- one of them the Gandhi family borough of Amethi. But she showed an unexpected combative side, also winning the election against the BJP's Sushma Swaraj from Karnataka's Bellary. But the Congress lost the national election, and as the chief of the Congress party, she was elected the Leader of the Parliament."
  • "In 2004, the Congress made an unexpected return to power. But Sonia Gandhi - who for years, had borne the "foreign born" jibe from the opposition -- turned down the post of the Prime Minister despite frantic pleadings by Congressmen. It was a move that shocked many. Others termed her the power behind the throne - given the quiet personality of Manmohan Singh, who became the Prime Minister."
  • "She is considered the main backer for several key welfare schemes of the UPA government, including its flagship MNREGA. The downside - critics said she was the main force in the UPA government and Manmohan Singh just a front. But their partnership had continued smoothly till 2014, when the BJP captured power driving accusations of corruption and mis-governance against the Congress government."
  • "After the Congress victory in 2004, when Sonia was just a heartbeat away from becoming prime minister, she stunned her rivals by renouncing the post and anointing, instead, Manmohan Singh as the chosen one. This won her instant plaudits and took the wind out of the sails of the Opposition’s “foreign origin” campaign."
  • "In her 12-year tenure, Sonia has helped flesh out the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) combine’s social agenda. She is the brain behind the government’s signature schemes such as MNREGA, Bharat Nirman and Right to Information (RTI)."
  • "It would be good to start with the figure of a man who has almost always remained anonymous and whose person has always remained involved in a halo of mystery and enigma. His name is José María Córdoba Montoya."
  • "The Anglo-Saxon press dubbed the mysterious Córdoba Montoya as: The Power Behind the Throne ; some others called him the vice-president of Mexico. The reality is that this character who is not really Mexican at all (according to official sources comes from France) was truly the power behind the throne of Salinas posing as a simple "advisor."
  • "Córdoba Montoya was the great architect and strong arm of the entire Salinista-Zedillista project. Córdoba Montoya studied at Stanford being his roommate another oligarch "Mexican" named Guillermo Ortiz Martínez."
  • "This mysterious character that is hidden in the shadows could well be an agent / mercenary of the international elite that serves the interests of the Rothschild family. The fact that Córdoba Montoya was an advisor to Jacques Attali - a very influential character and mercenary of Rothschild - tells us a lot."
  • "Negroponte was Washington’s point man throughout this process. During his time as ambassador, Mexico and the U.S. moved closer than ever before, setting aside for the most part a history of bitterness and mistrust."
  • "While Negroponte gained Salinas’ trust and had his ear, his direct counterpart was José Córdoba Montoya, the president’s economic policy reform architect and most powerful advisor"
  • "Often described as the “power behind the throne” or Salinas’ “alter ego”, there was little that the president decided about the NAFTA negotiations and the relationship with the United States that was not previously approved by Córdoba. "
  • "Aware of Córdoba’s role, Negroponte became closer to him than to Salinas and consulted more with him than with the president. Negroponte barely dealt with the Foreign Minister whose role was largely diminished. "
  • "The home of Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon once seen as a kingmaker in Moscow who was found dead on Saturday, was cleared yesterday after a search by police."
  • "Russian media reports suggested the 67-year-old former oligarch, who had lived in a mansion outside London since 2000, had killed himself."
  • "But the man once known as the "Godfather of the Kremlin" had been the subject of assassination attempts before and an associate, former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, was killed by polonium poisoning in London in 2006."
  • "He was the most vocal of the oligarchs who rose to prominence with the sell-off of Russia's state industries in largely rigged auctions after the fall of the Soviet Union. A trained mathematician who was born to an engineer in 1946, his business interests included car dealing and banking."
  • "But it was after taking control of the state-owned ORT television channel in 1994 that Berezovsky's political influence peaked. Once seen as the power behind Boris Yeltsin's throne, he rallied behind Mr Putin when Yeltsin's grip on power weakened, using ORT to rubbish political rivals."
  • "Putin’s real achievement was to effectively coordinate the looting of the wealth of the Russian state and countryside. Perhaps Berezovsky’s bitterness in exile was partially due to being deprived of the chance to participate in Putin’s culmination of his schemes. "
  • "From being the power behind the throne, Berezovsky spent a decade in London as little more than a jester, making wild statements and squandering his remaining assets on lawsuits and press battles. He never had the courage to fight against Putin from afar, as others have."