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The Poetic Vision of Peter Sinfield


he work before you began as an attempt to answer a simple question: Who is the Crimson King? What it has become is an exhaustive exploration of the lyrical and visual aspects, the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, of the first four King Crimson albums.
The albums in question present, what Wagner termed, a "Gesamtkunstwerk", a total work of art incorporating music, images and words. This idea informed Wagner's operatic endeavors and it has been similarly employed by Peter Sinfield and King Crimson, albeit on a much smaller scale, for the early King Crimson albums. What this means is that the lyrics, the artwork and, of course, the music all work together to express the particular meanings of each album. Just as there are meanings to the lyrics that are not readily apparent, there are "hidden" meanings to the album illustrations and within the music. As you will see, nothing in the albums in question is placed at random or done simply for the sake of dramatic or musical effect. It all has a purpose.


In the mid 70's, after reading a brief account of the life of Holy Roman emperor Frederick II, I was left with the strong impression that he could be the Crimson King. Startlingly anti-ecclesiastical, Frederick II was so unlike his thirteenth century peers, that he seemed to live out of his time.
I did not pursue the idea that Frederick might be the Crimson King, until the Autumn of 1998. When a poster to asked about the origins of the Crimson King and someone responded with Robert Fripp's quote about Beelzebub and the "man with the aim", I was reminded of the similarities between Frederick II and Peter Sinfield's creation. Using the two clues above, I then decided to investigate the subject from the standpoint that the Crimson King might actually be Frederick. What I did not count on was finding an immediate line of connection drawn from Beelzebub to the "man with the aim" and leading directly to Frederick II. But that is precisely what I did find. Just as Jung began to see parallels between the writings of the alchemists and his own psychological theories, I began to notice mounting similarities between Sinfield's creation and Frederick II. I had stumbled upon the historical counterpart of the Crimson King.

One theme of the first album is the relationship between the sun and moon as told from the perspective of the sun. In the title song, The Court of the Crimson King, Frederick II is a personification of the sun. He represents the alchemical rubedo, the sun at it's zenith. This is one variant of the central archetype of Jungian psychology, the alchemical union of opposites, and it is the major theme running through each of the first four albums. It is also a concept that, in some ways, describes the musical entity, King Crimson.

The following cite, from a 1968 Jungian Journal, serves as an outline of the first four King Crimson albums.

"Alchemical symbolism gives us numerous examples of the central archetype as a union of opposites."

In The Court Of The Crimson King :
"For example, the philosopher's stone, one of the goals of the alchemical process, was depicted as resulting from the marriage of the red king and the white queen, or from the union of sun and moon, fire and water."

In the Wake of Poseidon :

"The product of such a union is a paradoxical image often described as hermaphroditic."

Lizard :

"Other images which are often used to express the union of opposites are the reconciliation of opposing partisan factions and...

Islands :

the reconciliation of good and evil..."

(Edinger, An outline of analytical psychology, Quadrant, Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology, 1968.)

- Alchemy, Witchcraft and Magic by Tom Rue

On a practical level, the popular image of Frederick II seems to have provided historical material from which Peter Sinfield developed a significant portion of his early work. It also appears that the emperor is both muse and metaphor for the early band. Whether or not this is what Peter Sinfield intended, because of Frederick's connection to the Tarot, he is also the strand which, once grasped, serves to unravel the elaborate cloak of mystery surrounding the Crimson King - and uncover the rich layers of meaning underlying each of the first four albums.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to John Opsopaus for contributing his words and knowledge to this work. His writings on the Tarot and Peter Sinfield's early creations are so inter-related as to leave me wondering if he was not a consultant to the early King Crimson. Without his insights, this website would not exist.

I should say here that what will be discussed in these pages is not the "real" Frederick II. In the most recent account of his life, Frederick II A Medieval Emperor, David Abulafia explodes much of the mythology surrounding Frederick II, rendering him a, for his time, rather ordinary ruler. But, when In the Court of the Crimson King was conceived, the standard reference on Frederick was Ernst Kantorowicz' 1927 epic, Kaiser Friederich der Zweite. Described by critics as a highly romanticized work of scholarly propaganda, Emperor Frederick The Second was so powerfully written that it has been cited as a factor in the rise of the Third Reich.

"And indeed, right from its very first lines, his book is thoroughly mythical: it begins with a recitation of Vergil's Fourth Eclogue, the famous celebration of the future ruler of the world. The medieval evocations of this prophecy in the visions of the Sibyllines, Joachim of Fiore, and Peter of Eboli provide the background to the life and times of "the last and greatest Christian Emperor of the German Roman Imperium." Throughout the book this was Kantorowicz's pattern: to describe Fredrick through the legends, panegyrics, hymns, and similar poetic visions by which his contemporaries, and primarily he himself, perceived the Kaiser as Stupor Mundi-The Amazement of the World."

by Joseph Mali (p. 194)

Whatever the veracity or the intentions of Kantorowicz' work, it is almost certainly the basis for some of the early verses of King Crimson. When, in 1957, Emperor Frederick The Second was re-published in English, Peter Sinfield was a 13 year old student at Danes Hill, still under the tutleage of his mentor John Mawson. If I seem to be waxing poetic about Frederick in these pages it is in an attempt to arrive at Peter Sinfield's likely conception of our initial subject, King Crimson and Frederick II.

King Crimson and Frederick II

"You shall separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity and skill. Your skillful work ascends from earth to heaven and descends to earth again, and receives the power of the superiors and of the inferiors. So thou hast the glory of the whole world--therefore let all obscurity flee from thee."

- Hermes Trismegistus

"Finally we shall place the Sun himself at the center of the Universe. All this is suggested by the systematic procession of events and the harmony of the whole Universe, if we only face the facts, as they say, with both eyes open."

- Nicolaus Copernicus


Referred to, by Dante, as "ultimo imperadore de li Romani"
"The last emperor of the Romans..."

"The cathedral of Palermo is the last resting-place of a man described by his contemporaries as 'the terror of the earth', 'the wonder-working transformer', the Emperor Frederick II. His lion throned sarcophagus of blood-red porphyry is a monument so classical, so proud and so unapproachable that it involuntarily calls to mind Napoloeon's tomb in Paris."

- The Medieval World
by Friedrich Heer (p. 267)

"In Frederick II, one of the most fascinating personalities of Western civilization enters upon the historical stage. He has been called the first modern man, a precursor of the great figures of the Renaissance, a humanist and a skeptic. To his friends he appeared as the Messiah, the herald of universal peace, the God-Emperor of a new age, while his enemies saw in him a ruthless tyrant and the incarnation of the anti-Christ, whose coming spelled ruin and the end of the world. The modern historian recognizes in Frederick the antagonistic elements of a historic constellation in which two epochs meet and clash – the ecclesiastical civilization of the middle ages and the secularized modern world."

- Kurt F. Reinhardt
Germany 2000 Years (p. 93)

"The emperor was Frederick II, that King of Sicily whom, as a child of three, his dying father, Henry VI, had made a ward of the pope; and whom, as a young man of twenty, Pope Innocent III had called to be emperor. Within four or five years of this, Frederick was launched on his great career as chief antagonist of all that the popes had been striving for since Hildebrand. Frederick II, ward of Innocent III, was locked in conflict for a good thirty years with Innocent's three successors.
To understand the degree of the menace, we need to recall that Frederick was a unique figure, as a man and as a ruler, in all these years; "the world's wonder man," said the contemporary chronicler, Matthew Paris."

- The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils: 325-1870

The Court of Emperor Frederick II in Palermo by Arthur Georg von Ramberg

"The court that Frederick maintained in the south was one of the most brilliant in history. Nothing like it had been seen in the Christian West before, not even in the great days of Charlemagne. The rude court of that Frankish emperor could not boast steam baths and plumbing to rival those of ancient Rome, a menagerie of wild beasts from distant Africa and India, a wholly secular university that challenged the intellectual monopoly of the medieval church... It was a court where for the first time poets, as Dante noted approvingly a century later, sang a sophisticated early verse in the Italian vernacular. There eunuchs guarded harems of Moorish women and the pious were daily offended by the comings and goings of infidel Moslems and Jewish alchemists, philosophers, astrologers and mathematicians."

- Frederick II: The Wonder of the World
Horizon: A Magazine of the Arts, Autumn 1968

"He enjoyed entertainment and kept a large troop of singers, dancers and acrobats, many of them Saracen. He also kept a menagerie of wild beasts, including: giraffe, elephants, camels, lions, leopards, birds, apes and bears. Like most medieval kings, he was constantly traveling throughout his kingdom with occasional stopovers at hunting lodges. His entertainers, bodyguard, and numerous animals, together with his crown jewels and part of his library, made up a traveling court - they must have permitted quite a spectacle."

- Tarot and the Millenium
by Timothy Betts Ph.D. (p. 217)

"He called himself "lord of the world"; Norman and German in ancestry but essentially a Sicilian, Frederick always felt a stranger in Germany. He spent most of his time in Italy and Sicily, where his legal reforms set up an efficient administration. This system he tried, with some success, to transfer to Germany."
"Frederick was also a gifted artist and scientist. A poet himself, he was surrounded by Provençal troubadours and German minnesingers. He patronized science and philosophy and interested himself in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. His De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, on hawking as well as the anatomy and life of birds, was the first modern ornithology."

- The Columbia Encyclopedia
""Major cultural centre during the first half of the XIII century, the court of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) represented the real place where men and cultures, East and West, languages and literary traditions met and exchanged. The Poetic School was born within Frederick's court, that is, that poetic movement which marked the beginning of lyric poetry in Italian. The Emperor was among the authors of the first love poems in Vulgar."

- The Sicilian Poetic School by Giuseppina Brunetti

"Frederick spoke six languages fluently, among them Greek and Arabic…he had read the Koran and…He got on well with Muslim rulers, whom he considered his only cultural equals.

- The Situation In Europe
by Erik Hildinger

"The result of getting an Arabic view of Christianity and a Christian view of Islam, was to make him believe that all religions were impostures, a view held perhaps by many a stifled observer in the Age of Faith. But he talked about his views; his blasphemies and heresies are on record."

- H. G. Wells
The Outline of History Vol. II

"It was rumored that Frederick had written a book titled De Tribus Impostoribus ("About the Three Impostors"). The imposters, so the story went, he considered to be Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, the founders of the religions of the Western world. The rumor was false, but it seems to have captured the essence of his views."

- The Situation In Europe
by Erik Hildinger

"He was a remarkable man, in advance of his times in many ways. A free thinker, he was willing to oppose the church in almost anything. He pioneered in the establishment of a complete secular government."

- The Problem Of The Hammer And The Anvil
by Lynn H. Nelson
The Castle of Melfi
"He eliminated all aspects of feudal organization and directed the writing and promulgation of the Constitutions of Melfi. This was a remarkable document, one of the earliest written constitutions and unusually liberal for the day. The Constitutions established uniform system of laws to be observed throughout the realm. They established a standard form local government, declared that taxes would be fair and fairly administered, and ensured that Two Sicilies would welcome trade and commerce. Perhaps most remarkable, The Constitutions provided for representative assemblies decades before the birth of the Parliament of England.
Frederick established and endowed the University of Naples, the first clearly secular university in the West. Moreover, he took care that its faculty included Christians, Muslims and Jews, and that all of these languages would be taught, together with the laws and literature of these cultures. Equally remarkable considering the times was Frederick's edict ordering religious toleration for Christians, Muslims and Jews throughout his realm."

- Frederick II
by Lynn Harry Nelson

"In the same early thirteenth century in which Pope Innocent III gave the model for Hitler's Nuremberg laws against the Jews, there was created by Christian, Islamic, and Jewish forces the near-miracle of a tolerant humanism on the basis of current traditions at the court of Emperor Frederick II in Sicily. It took one to two centuries for similar ideas to come again to the surface, changing the Christian judgment of non-Christian religions in a radical way."

- Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions
by Paul Tillich

" his Liber augustalis, in which we may note an idea antagonistic to the Collection of Canons and Decretals, he seeks to put forward a civil and political code based on Law, Nature and Reason. Gregory IX reproached Frederick's collection of laws, saying that these did not 'co-operate in salvation but call down evils upon many'. Frederick's struggle against the supremacy of the popes was that of a disorderly genius, who passed down to posterity as a heretic, a renegade, an Antichrist."

- Dom. Luigi Sturzo
Church and State

"Frederick II is a very convenient example of the sort of doubter and rebel the 13th century could produce.. Through him Arabic numerals and algebra were introduced to Christian students..

.. called the "first of the moderns".. All sorts of men must have been impressed by the futility of the excommunications and interdicts that were leveled at Frederick. The revolt of the princes was essentially an irreligious revolt against the world-rule of the Church. The emperor Frederick II, with his epistles to his fellow-princes was its forerunner. The revolt of the people against the church, on the other hand, was as essentially religious."

- The Latter Rain Page, Frederick II

"No sooner had Frederick I (Barbarossa) perished on the third crusade in 1190, than there began to appear in Germany prophecies which foretold of a future Frederick, who as Emperor of the Last Days would complete the unfinished work; an eschatological savior who by liberating the Holy Sepulchre would prepare the way for the Second Coming and the Millennium. When thirty years later, the imperial crown was bestowed on Frederick, who was Barbarossa's grandson, these prophecies were confidently applied to him.

There was much in Frederick's life and personality to foster the growth of a messianic myth. He was a most brilliant figure, whose versatility and intelligence, licentiousness and cruelty combined to fascinate his contemporaries. Moreover he did in fact go on a crusade in 1229 and was even able to recapture Jerusalem and crown himself king of that city. Above all, he was repeatedly embroiled in conflicts of extraordinary bitterness with the Papacy. Christendom was treated to the spectacle of the Emperor, several times excommunicated as a heretic, perjurer and blasphemer, threatening to strip the Church of that wealth which, he proclaimed, was the source of its corruption."

- The Pursuit of the Millenium
by Norman Cohn (p. 111)

"What Frederick II wanted to be, it seems agreed, was the Roman emperor of old, but a "Catholic" Roman emperor--claiming that the empire was created divinely, and that he was divinely commissioned to bring about the reign of justice and peace, and also to spread the gospel everywhere. The Church, as an institution wholly self-controlled and the pope as its single supreme ruler, could scarcely find any place in this fantasy."

- The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils: 325-1870

Innocence IV and the Council of Lyons, 1245
"It was now evident that the pope was not merely fighting another Henry IV, or Barbarossa, but an anti-ecclesiastical theory of world organisation, aggressive and fully armed.
In July of 1245, two hundred bishops and abbots attended the first General Council of Lyons. It is unique in that its main purpose was a trial. The emperor was making it his life's aim to restore the ancient subordination of religion to the State. The pope was determined to destroy him."

- The Imperial Menace to The Freedom Of Religion: The Emperor Frederick II

"He became the battle cry of the West ; bloodier and more savage than before the strife raged through the Christian world round his person alone. Never before had one single individual achieved such personal importance--Frederick the man, not Frederick the Emperor. The person of the Emperor was now the World-Idea. If Frederick had been unable thus to exalt himself the Curia would still have given the struggle its ecumenical importance. With magnificent single-minded concentration the Church laid aside all other tasks and devoted her entire world-organisation to the destruction of one man. The Church magnified the Hohenstaufen into a giant. The papacy with all the forces of all the countries of Europe, was now fighting not the Emperor nor the Empire, but one demon in whom all the evil of the world was incarnate, one Hohenstaufen, by name Frederick."

- Frederick II
by Ernst Kantorowicz
(p. 605)

"This conflict of the imperial house of the Hohenstaufen was more imposing than the conflict waged by Henry IV. with Gregory and his successors because of the higher plane on which it was fought and the greater ability of the secular antagonists engaged. Lasting more than one hundred years, it forms one of the most august spectacles of the Middle Ages, and furnishes some of the most dramatic scenes in which kings have ever figured. The historian Gregorovius has felt justified in saying that "this Titanic war of the Middle Ages filled and connected the centuries and formed the greatest spectacle of all ages."

- History of the Christian Church; Vol 5 Ch 6
by Phillip Schaff

"After the reign of Emperor Frederick II, the monarch who was more often oriental than occidental, Mohammedan than Christian, and who not only failed to realize all of Pope Innocent's hopes for him but proved to be one of the most terrible foes the Church has ever had, things were never again the same."

- Pope Innocent III

"The final resting-place of Frederick II, according to Dante, is in a fiery coffin, in circle six with the heretics, in book ten of the Inferno (Inf. X 120)."

- Dante and Frederick II: The Poetry of History
Roger Dragonetti
(Trans. Judith P. Shoaf)

Farinata Addresses Dante by Gustave Dore
Dante asks Farinata to tell him who is in there with him, and Farinata replies "Here I lie with more than a thousand. Here within is the second Frederick, and the Cardinal, and of the rest I do not speak" (Inf. X 118-119).
"Yet Dante had the most profound respect and admiration for the Hohenstaufen. All his life Frederick II was the model of the Ruler, and Judge, the Scholar and Poet, the perfect Prince, the "illustrious Hero" who - 'so long as his good fortune lasted' - sought after the humane, the humanum, and who as a crowned monarch gathered round him the noblest and most brilliant spirits of the earth." (p. 260)

- Frederick II
by Ernst Kantorowicz

"To Salimbene, as to Dante, Frederick was a man of heroic proportions in his very sins. "Of faith in God he had none; he was crafty, wily, avaricious, lustful, malicious, wrathful; and yet a gallant man at times, when he would show his kindness or courtesy; full of solace, jocund, delightful, fertile in devices. He knew to read, write, and sing, to make songs and music. He was a comely man, and well formed, but of middle stature. I have seen him, and once I loved him, for on my behalf he wrote to Bro. Elias, Minister-General of the Friars Minor, to send me back to my father. Moreover, he knew to speak with many and varied tongues, and, to be brief, if he had been a good catholic, and loved God and His Church, and his own soul, he would have had few equals among the emperors of the world."

- Salimbene/From G. G. Coulton, St. Francis to Dante, (London: David Nutt, 1906), pp. 242-43

"Frederick II left a profound impression upon the popular imagination. He is still remembered in South Italy almost as vivdly as is Napoleon I by the peasants of France; he is the "Gran Frederigo". And German scholars declare that, in spite of Frederick's manifest dislike for Germany, it is he and not Frederick I, Frederick Barbarossa, to whom that German legend originally attached - that legend which represents a great monarch slumbering in a deep cavern, his beard grown round a stone table, against a day of awakening when the world will be restored by him from an extremity of disorder to peace."

- H. G. Wells
The Outline of History Vol. II

Table of Contents top

The Metaphysical Record

Sign the Dreambook Dreambook Read the Dreambook

Chapter One The Metaphysical Record In The Court Of the Crimson King In The Wake Of Poseidon Lizard The King In Yellow The Sun King Eight
The Lake Which Mirrors the Sky In the Beginning Was the Word In the Beginning was the Word...side two Eros and Strife Dark Night of the Soul...Cirkus Dark Night of the Soul...Wilderness Big Top Islands
Islands Two Footnotes in the Sand Still Still 2
Works Lyrics
Gallery Guestbook
Links Discography E-mail:
Peter Sinfield
Jon Green
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