CHAPTER THREE:

IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING



- chapter index -
pg. 1 - Epitaph | pg. 2 - The Iron Gates of Fate
pg. 3 - The Fate of All Mankind | pg. 4 - Moonchild
pg. 5 - The Court of the Crimson King | pg. 6 - The Purple Piper
pg. 7 - Averroes | pg. 8 - The Keeper of the City Keys
pg. 9 - The Pilgrim's Door | pg. 10 - The Return of the Fire Witch
pg. 11 - The Gardener Plants An Evergreen | pg. 12 - The Prism Ship
pg. 13 - The Grinding Wheel | pg. 14 - On Soft Gray Mornings
pg. 15 - Divining Signs | pg. 16 - The Yellow Jester
pg. 17 - Remember the Future | pg. 18 - The Return of the King
pg. 19 - The I Ching | pg. 20 - Octants

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The Crimson King


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A poster on soc.history.medieval asked the question:

"Does Bad Emperor Frederick get to come back like Good King Arthur ?"

No telling of the Frederick II story would be complete without a resurrection.


In the Court of the Crimson King - The Reprise


"Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars."

- The Passing of Arthur by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Two Crowns by Sir Frank Dicksee

The sun is the fundamental symbol of resurrection. Each day it is born again. In King Crimson's debut album the resurrection of Frederick II is represented by the reprise of the title theme at the end of In the Court of the Crimson King .

"In southern Italy a monk saw the Emperor enter into the bowels of Mt. Etna while a fiery army of knights descended into the hissing sea. If to the monk this meant that Frederick had gone down to hell, many Sicilians put another construction on the matter. Etna had long been regarded as an abode of departed heroes, including King Arthur himself; when Frederick took his place among these he became a Sleeping Emperor who would one day return as saviour."

- The Pursuit of the Millenium
by Norman Cohn (p. 113)

In the guise of impostors, at least, Frederick II was resurrected again and again. The resurrected emperor came to be known as "the Third Frederick".

"The years after 1250 saw an endless succession of impostors or crazed enthusiasts who claimed to be the returned emperor...His very difficulties with the papacy reinforced the view that he had been sent to suppress the evils and errors of of the contemporary church...It was really in Germany that the idea took root of a Frederick who 'is still alive and will remain alive until the end of the world; there has been and shall be no proper emperor but he'."

- Frederick II A Medieval Emperor by David Abulafia (p.434)

"...the phantasy of the resurrected Frederick was to enthrall generation after generation of Germans, just as the phantasy of the resurrected Charlemagne, carolus redivivus , enthralled the French."

- The Pursuit of the Millenium
by Norman Cohn (p. 113)

We now come to the heart of the mystery. How can King Crimson so confidently herald the resurrection of the emperor? It is because King Crimson is the resurrection of the emperor.





Within a month of his death, the Emperor's followers are writing in the style of the Tiburtine Sibyl, "like the sun when he sinks from the heaven into the Western Sea, Frederick has left a son-sun in the west and already the crimson of the dawn begins to glow."

- Frederick II
by Ernst Kantorowicz
(p. 686)

King Crimson is as unprecedented, in its way, as the life of Frederick II. Frederick was the proto-typical Renaissance man, King Crimson the proto-typical Progressive band. Frederick represents a fusion of many elements. King Crimson represents a fusion of many elements and musical styles. The court of Frederick II presented a virtual who's who of the first half of the 13th century. King Crimson has a tradition of bringing together the best in its field from seemingly disparate backgrounds and interests.
And as to the end of another epoch, the demise of the original King Crimson in 1969...

..."I view 1970/71 as an interim period or, in Crim history: The Interregnum."

- Robert Fripp, Epitaph liner notes (p.42)

"...the death of Frederick II ushered in the Great Interregnum (1250-73), a period of internal confusion..."


"confusion will be my epitaph"

"...and political disorder."

- Encyclopedia Britannica

After the death of Frederick, it was thought that he would return as the latter-day emperor to punish the worldly church and peacefully reestablish the Holy Roman Empire. Through the music of King Crimson, Frederick II has returned.
In the mythology of the resurrected emperor, the persona of Frederick II and his grandfather, Frederick Barbarossa, (Redbeard) eventually merged. In Germany, it was said that Barbarossa/Frederick was asleep under the Kyffhauser mountains and that his red beard was growing around a table. When his beard came to grow all the way around the table, it was thought that he would be resurrected to save Germany. On the cover of the first King Crimson album, the Crimson King's red head expands into space, covering the rectangular shape of the album jacket, the shape of a table.

"King Crimson lives in different bodies at different times, and the particular form which the group takes changes. When music appears which only King Crimson can play then, sooner or later, King Crimson appears to play the music."

- Robert Fripp


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But the mask has not been removed from the Crimson King to reveal Frederick II. Quite the contrary. The resurrection of the emperor has a deeper meaning.

In the lyrics to the title song, Frederick refers to the king in the third person. He doesn't describe the court as "my court", but rather as "the court of the Crimson King." By this device, Peter Sinfield causes the story to appear to be narrated by someone other than the king, a member of the king's court, perhaps, or some outside observer to events within the court. And, indeed, Frederick II is someone other than the king. By referring to the king as an entity separate from himself, Frederick is acknowledging, as Robert Fripp acknowledges, that "King Crimson lives in different bodies at different times".

The Crimson King has lived thru the ages in different guises. He turns up in ancient Egypt as Ramses. He appears in 4th century B.C. Macedonia as Alexander the Great. Xerxes, Arthur, Charlemagne, Elizabeth I, and JFK: they, and many others, have been the Crimson King.
In his lyrics to Emerson Lake and Palmer 's Karn Evil Nine , Peter Sinfield refers to the timelessness of the archetypal king:

"Draws a blade of compassion
Kissed by countless Kings
Whose jewelled trumpet words blind his sight."


"Let us grasp the full significance of Frederick's Italian-Roman State: a mighty pan-Italian seignory, which for a short time united in one state Germanic, Roman, and Oriental elements-Frederick himself, Emperor of the World, being the Grand Signor and Grand Tyrant thereof, the last of these princes to wear the diadem of Rome, whose Caesarhood was not only allied with German kingship, like Barbarossa's, but with Oriental-Sicilian despotism. Having grasped this we percieve that all the tyrants of the Renaissance, the Scala and Montefeltre, the Visconti, Borgia and Medici, are, down to the tiniest features, the sons and successors of Frederick II, the diadochi of this 'Second Alexander.'"

- Frederick the Second
by Ernst Kantorowicz
pg 561-562, 493-494

"The list of Frederick of Hohenstaufen's 'successors' could be prolonged to down to the twentieth century of the Christian Era, and the secular civilization of the Modern Western world may be regarded, in one of it's aspects, as an emanation of his spirit."

- A Study of History
by Arnold J. Toynbee pg 112-113

"The archetypes," states Jung, "are the images of the instincts." Archetypes are the mythological figures that serve as the universal "cores" around which personal complexes constellate. Their universality gives human psychology its relatively invariant character across time and culture. Jung notes that the archetypes have a personality-like structure (one-dimensional and stereotyped though they may be, like the allegorical characters in a Dickens novel, or the "alters" in Multiple Personality Disorder, or the gods and goddesses of Greek and other mythologies) including each its own consciousness, set of values, and goals. He identifies them with, for example, the "spirits" that spoke to his cousin, a medium, while in trance.

Jung also attributes to the archetypes a transcendent dimension, a capacity to evade the constraints of material causality (as in extrasensory phenomena, astrological correspondences, or so-called "synchronicity"-seemingly meaningful coincidences). Once this dimension is added, the archetypes become indistinguishable from spirits or demons as traditionally conceived, regardless of the scientific sound of words like "complexes," "synchronicity," or, indeed, "archetypes." Archetypes are immaterial, yet beings; each has an individual consciousness and intentionality, yet possesses a commonly shared and universal consciousness of some sort; they can transmit to people information not obtainable by natural means."

In the spirit of Renaissance Neoplatonism and magic, says Jung, every spirit above has its reflection below in the world of matter, with man's imagination (soul) the carrier in which above and below intersect. (This union of spirit and matter, above and below, dovetails neatly with the mystic union of macrocosm and microcosm also proposed by Neoplatonists and occultists and reincarnated in the union of science and religion.) To discover the god to whom one belongs, to embrace him-or her!-fully, to discover and not resist the fate he has laid out for you, is to know meaning and purpose in life."

Jungians and Gnostics by Jeffrey Burke Satinover

Robert Fripp, in his first venture outside the group, chose to perform on a song about the archetypal emperor. The Emperor in his War Room , by Van der Graaf Generator , is very much an extension of the fundamental idea conveyed by Peter Sinfield in the first King Crimson album:

"Live in peace or die forever in your war-room."

In the Court of the Crimson King is concerned with the excesses of power. Twenty First Century Schizoid Man addresses the increasing impersonalization of our modern world due to technological "advances" and the resulting abuses that might occur in the not so distant future. In I Talk to the Wind , the listener is encouraged to follow his own path rather than conform to societal (governmentally imposed) conventions. Epitaph is a clear warning about the dangers of military adventurism, particularly as it relates to nuclear technology. Moonchild provides a glimpse of humanity, the solution to our modern plight, and the title song describes the personal disintegration of a man who chose to follow the path of destruction, a man who discovered the god to whom he belonged, the archetype of the Crimson King.


"The wheel of fortune rotates, returning
         whence it started;
Thus stands in doubt that which was
         deemed permanent.
Caught in the toils, it falls, naked and void.
It is, it was, it is not; it came, it was, and
         it is nothing.
Then it returns to nothing, that which was nothing
         before."

            - Conrad of Fabraria


Illustration from Idylls of the King by Gustave Dore


Back in 1250, while the Crimson King was high above the village in his throne room, railing against the church and fate, a simple man was singing songs addressing the needs and spiritual concerns of the 13 th Century everyman. Like the Crimson King, this troubadour sang in the vernacular of the day using the very sun and moon symbolism prevalent in the first King Crimson album. His band used the mellotron to great effect in the title song. They also performed a song about upholstered Lizards, Heavy Disguise (but that is for another chapter). For those who might enjoy a companion album to In the Court of the Crimson King , and a counterpoint to its paranoia and intensity, I can recommend the Strawbs Grave New World .


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