Vinland Saga’s Real-Life Inspirations for Prince Canute, Thorfinn & Others

Vinland Saga is an ongoing seinen manga and anime franchise by author Makoto Yukimura, set during the Viking Age of medieval Europe. It includes real-life historical figures and events, such as the Danish occupation of the British Isles and the adventures of Leif Erikson, Thorfinn Karlsefni and others.

as expected, Vinland Saga takes some creative liberties, especially because medieval history is filled with frustrating gaps, apocryphal stories, and instances of myths and legends blended together with the hard truth. It’s not always easy to know who did what a thousand years ago, but Vinland Saga does its best to portray characters like Thorfinn, Gudrid, Leif and Prince Canute in compelling, at least slightly accurate, ways for anime fans.


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The Brave Journeys of Thorfinn Karlsefni

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In Vinland Saga, Thorfinn Karlsefni is a total antihero who’s bent on revenge, though he realizes too late that revenge is empty and will destroy the seeker along with the target of their wrath. In Vinland Saga Season 1, Thorfinn watched his beloved father Thor die, then swore to slay Askeladd in revenge, only for Askeladd to die at Prince Canute’s hands instead. Now Thorfinn is a slave on Ketil’s farm in Denmark, but all this peace and quiet will give him a chance to make peace with his bloody past and seek a more constructive goal: to found a distant colony in the fabled Vinland, a place free of war and slavery.

Real-life historical accounts only describe the Vinland aspect of Thorfinn Karlsefni’s life, with the revenge story evidently being author Yukimura’s own invention. According to historical sources such as Saga of the Greenlanders, Thorfinn was an Icelandic man who married a woman named Gudrid, then journeyed to North America and founded a colony at an unknown location. Thorfinn and Gudrid’s son Snorri is believed to be the first European born in the New World.

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Leif Erikson Is Likely North America’s First European Settler

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A close-up of Leif Erickson smiling in Vinland Saga

In Vinland SagaIn his story, the supporting character Leif Erikson is like Thorfinn’s caring uncle and foster father figure, and he once wowed Thorfinn with tales of his adventures in distant Vinland. He even returned with a headdress and tobacco pipe from the natives there, inspiring Thorfinn to explore the world. For years, Thorfinn’s revenge quest kept him and Leif apart, but eventually, they reunited and teamed up to found a colony in Vinland for real. Leif, a veteran explorer and master sailor, is a vital ally in Thorfinn’s journey.

Historic accounts, including Saga of the Greenlanders, describe Leif as following Bjarni Herjolfsson’s own trip to North America, and unlike Bjarni, Leif actually made landfall and set up a colony in what is probably today’s Canada. Leif and his crew spent the winter there, naming the place Vinland after the bountiful grapes there that could be made into wine. Leif and his crew returned home with timber and grapes, and though Leif never returned to Vinland, other Greenland and Iceland explorers did, Thorfinn among them.

RELATED: Vinland Saga: King Canute Is Yet Another Thorfinn – With England’s Future at Stake

Gudrid Traveled Far and Wide

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A behind view of Gudrid from the Vinland Saga anime, as she watches the sun set

Later story arcs in Vinland Saga portrayed Gudrid as an energetic young woman who’s eager to explore the world and not get tied down by marriage too soon. She is engaged to Halfdan’s son Sigurd but intended to break it off and travel with Thorfinn and Leif to Vinland instead. She is also a total deredere who gets along with nearly everyone, though she is quite tough and has a formidable temper when provoked, giving her a tsundere side, too. She developed a crush on Thorfinn that Thorfinn eventually returned, leading to their marriage and firstborn child.

According to real-life accounts such as Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Erik the RedGudrid was a chief’s daughter who voyaged to Greenland with Erik the Red, and though the crew suffered many hardships and losses, Erik helped Gudrid survive. She even converted to Christianity, though she still helped her fellow Norse pagans with traditional rites when they needed her aid. Later, Gudrid married Thorstein Eriksson, Leif’s younger brother, and traveled to Vinland with him, but Thorstein died.

Gudrid traveled all over Scandanavia after that before marrying Thorfinn Karlsefni, traveling to Vinland with him and their crew and bearing a son named Snorri. After clashing with the natives, Gudrid and her family returned to Iceland, where Thorfinn later died. Many years later, Gudrid went on a pilgrimage to Rome, then returned to Iceland and became a hermit in the church that her adult son Snorri built.

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Prince Canute’s reign in Scandinavia

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Prince Canute from Vinland Saga with Thorfinn and Ragnar behind him

Vinland Saga portrays Prince Canute as a timid dandere prince of Denmark, and he relied heavily on his bodyguard Ragnar to survive. Canute also ended up in Askeladd’s hands, where he met Thorfinn, and later, Canute finally faced his father, King Sweyn. War was looming once again, so Askeladd ended Sweyn’s plans and life at the same time with the sword. Canute didn’t necessarily miss his father, but he also avenged the king by personally killing Askeladd. He later became a bold and more warlike king during Thorfinn’s time on Ketil’s farm, but he was still open to diplomacy. He and Thorfinn struck a deal, and peace returned to the land.

In real European history, Canute became a busy and successful king, conquering much land in England and even laying siege to London. The English also helped him gain control over large parts of Scandinavia, meaning he was likely one of the strongest and most influential rulers of his time. He often blended English and Danish people in legal terms, with his court featuring both groups, and he helped strengthen English currency while also being friendly to the Church.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo