Meet the Princess on University Avenue

The ArtSci student who’s a direct descendant of Queen Victoria

Alexa (right) is a third-year Drama major.
Credit: 
Supplied by Alexa Leiningen

Most students know Queen Victoria, who established ‘Queen’s College in Kingston’ via the Royal Charter in 1841, as the ‘Queen’ of Queen’s. For Alexa Leiningen, ArtSci ’20, the monarch is more than a historical figure—she’s family.

Though she goes by Alexa, the Queen’s student holds the official title of Her Serene Highness Princess Alexandra Sophia Marie of Leiningen. Leiningen stands in for her family’s last name, but it’s technically the name of a former principality and present-day municipality in Germany.

“Queen Victoria is my great-great-great-great grandmother and I descend through her second eldest son, Prince Alfred,” Alexa told The Journal in an interview.

Alexa’s ancestry puts her in the line of succession for the British throne, where she currently sits in the 177th spot. Prince William and Prince Harry are related to Queen Victoria to the same degree she is, though they descend from her oldest son King Edward VII and “therefore live in Buckingham Palace, not Kingston,” Alexa said.

Alexa’s family also directly descends from European monarchs like Czar Alexander II of Russia, King Boris III of Bulgaria, King Victor Emanuel III of Italy, and King Louis Philippe of France.

It may seem improbable for someone with ‘Princess’ in her title, but Alexa insists she had a standard childhood growing up in Canada. She played in a soccer league, took dance classes, and celebrated traditions on both sides of her family like any other kid she knew—even if she was the only one of her classmates with their own Wikipedia page.

It may seem improbable for someone with ‘Princess’ in her title, but Alexa insists she had a standard childhood growing up in Canada.

Alexa’s family’s travels, however, gave her some of the first indications that her background differed from the norm.

“We would go to Germany and my dad’s family lives there, so we got to visit [my relatives’] castle, which was a wonderful experience,” Alexa recalled.

“We visited a place called Amorbach, which used to be in what was called the ‘principality of Leiningen’, and therefore still has the palace of Leiningen, castle of Leiningen, Forest of Leiningen and a lot of the restaurants have Leiningen in [their] name. I think that’s a part of my life where it clicked—like, ‘This is different.’”

Another illuminating moment occurred when her dad, Hermann Leiningen, ArtSci ’84, showed her a book about King Simeon of Bulgaria, Alexa’s great uncle. At one point, Alexa turned the page and was greeted by a picture of herself, along with her other family members.

And yes, she’s met Queen Elizabeth II—though it may’ve had more to do with being in the right place at the right time than her familial relation.

In the summer of 2010, when Alexa was 12 years old, her father’s friend and Ontario’s former Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, invited her family to an event the Queen and her husband Prince Philip were attending. Hermann eventually got a chance to introduce himself to the Prince, who was surprised to meet a member of their family living in Canada. 

Armed with flowers at her mother’s suggestion, the Prince took notice of Alexa and motioned to the event’s guards to let her into the main area.

“I walked across, gave the flowers to the Queen and said, ‘Pleased to meet you,’” Alexa said. “It was an amazing experience to have met someone so important in world history.”

While attending Queen’s is obviously significant for Alexa due to her royal connection, the school is also responsible for kick-starting her parents’ relationship.

Hermann and Alexa’s mother, Deborah Cully, ArtSci ’84, met a few weeks into their first year at Queen’s during a dance at Leonard Hall. They’d go on to have three children, of which Alexa’s the youngest. Her sisters both completed their undergraduate degrees at Queen’s, with the eldest sister Tatiana also graduating from the Master of Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship program in 2018, and second-eldest Nadia completing her Professional Master of Education this year.

Alexa carries on her family’s tradition as a current Drama major with a minor in English. Her day-to-day life at Queen’s is no different from a typically-involved student. She’s held various positions in the Vogue Charity Fashion Show for three years, does marketing for the Queen’s Women in Financial Markets group, and enjoys not having any class on Wednesdays.

Reminders of Alexa’s background come up often enough, like when she goes past Victoria Hall, or walks down Alfred and Albert Street—all named after her ancestors. Mentions of her family history have also occasionally popped up in her studies, much to her amazement.

“As everyone else learns about European history, it’s always enjoyable,” she said. “But for me, sometimes I realize later that I’m learning about the history of my own family at the same time.”

People approach Alexa about her background once every few months, mostly from seeing articles about her family online or taking note of the family ring she dons on her pinky finger. Reactions range from intense interest to regarding her ancestry as “just another fact about [her] family.”

No matter the response, Alexa and her family are always adamant about appreciating anyone’s interest in their storied background.

“This isn’t something we discuss publicly,” Alexa said. “But it’s amazing when people reach out and ask about our family.”

“It’s nice that my friends at Queen’s will now know a little more about my family history. Everyone has an incredible story to tell, and I’m privileged that I’m able to share mine.”

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