Charles's mother is Alix de Foresta (born 1926), daughter of Albéric, comte de Foresta. Although she was the only consort of the surviving Imperial line not born a princess, her family had been nobles in Lombardy since the 13th century, becoming counts palatine in 1330, constables of Venice in 1425, then retainers of the powerful Doria family in Genoa. They settled in Provence, France early in the 16th century, where they acquired twenty-two manors and the title of marquis by 1651. Ironically, the Forestas distinguished themselves during the French Restoration as courtiers loyal to the House of Bourbon, and to Henri, comte de Chambord in particular. Long established as squires of large estates and rice paddies in the Camargue, the Forestas often welcomed Charles and his siblings there while they were growing up.
Charles was born in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France along with his twin sister, Princess Cathérine. He was baptised at Saint-Louis-des-Invalides by the Apostolic nuncio to France Archbishop Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII). Charles spent much of his youth at the family's ancestral retreat-in-exile, the Villa Prangins on Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland. He has two younger siblings, Princess Laure (born 1952) and Prince Jérôme (born 1957). His sisters are married, while his brother remains a bachelor.
Charles has worked professionally as a banker, financial planner, and real estate developer.
Charles and Beatrice had two children
On 28 September 1996, Charles was married in a civil ceremony to Jeanne-Françoise Valliccioni (born in Ortiporio, Corsica on 26 March 1958). She had previously married Erik Langrais on 15 July 1978 at Casaglione, Corsica, from whom she was divorced on 24 July 1990. When Charles and Jeanne-Françoise wed, they already had a daughter:
In 1998 the couple adopted a daughter of Vietnamese extraction:
In an interview published by Le Figaro 2 December 1997, Jean-Marc Varaut, the attorney who witnessed the late Prince Louis Napoléon's will and subsequently represented the dynastic interests of Prince Jean-Christophe against his father, stated that Prince Charles had alienated himself from the Bonaparte legacy by publicly espousing "republican and democratic opinions...He has deprived himself of all rights to dynastic heritage in remarrying without his father's permission...which is against the rules of the imperial family.
In his will, Louis cited three sources for his authority to exclude his son as dynastic heir:
Charles has expressed scepticism that his father's genuine intention was to disinherit him dynastically, "Without doubt, he had a mood swing, exploited by conservative elements in his entourage with whom I have long clashed...I am fighting so that my family ceases to be the victim of attempted manipulation. Moreover, Prince Charles denies that his father had the authority, by law or tradition, to exclude him from the order of succession:
"Even if I accept their premise, referring me to the Senatus Consultus of Napoleon III, divorce did not exist under the Second Empire, so it cannot be taken into account for the succession...Moreover, the hypocrisy of this argument is exposed by the dates: My father's will was written in May 1996. I only re-married in October. All that matters is the Bonaparte tradition, which makes the eldest son the natural heir of his father.
Aside from his second marriage, Varaut alleged that Louis was offended that his son unilaterally had French civil authorities change their surname from "Napoléon-Bonaparte" to "Napoléon" during his divorce in 1989. But Charles maintains that the family's legal surname had, in fact, been Napoléon until altered through clerical error on his birth certificate. When Charles requested that his surname be corrected, the civil authorities proceeded to apply the same change to the father's surname, "but not at my initiative.
Varaut further claimed that Charles was warned in advance by his father that he would be purged from the succession, and that he had responded to his father with a letter dated 16 June 1996 in which he asserted that his republican beliefs had already alienated him from the principles of the Imperial position, even before his father's decision to exclude him.
When queried by the French weekly, Point de Vue, as to why he claimed headship of the Imperial dynasty in view of his republican pretensions, Charles replied, "I assume the 'moral heritage' of my name. To renounce today to my ability to become the head of our House would imply that I accept a certain number of grievances of which I have been accused...I cannot accept this sentence from another era. As for my republican sentiments, those who reproach me misunderstand the history of our family. Bonaparte – General, then First Consul – defended the Republic.
Charles and his son have not engaged in the public feuding for which some of the past Bonaparte pretenders and their heirs have been notorious, and the father has stated of his son that "there will never be conflict between us". A pre-screening of Un nom en héritage, a documentary television series on France's former dynasties, was the subject of a two-page spread in a December 2006 issue of Point de Vue that pictured Charles side-by-side with Jean-Christophe, both shown as participating in a cordial meeting between Napoleonic and Orléanist pretenders.
Nonetheless, in November 2004 an issue of Point de Vue had announced that henceforth the magazine would accord the Bonapartist title of pretence, "the Prince Napoleon", to Jean-Christophe, whereas since 1997 that title had been attributed to Charles. This decision followed receipt by the magazine of a protest from Jean-Marc Varaut, prompted by publication in an earlier issue of a reference to Charles as "head of the Imperial house". Point de Vue, which sometimes gazettes monarchist announcements, published Varaut's re-assertion of the dynastic exclusion of Charles along with the prince's response: "...the title of 'head of family' among the Bonapartes devolves, at the death of the father, upon his eldest son. That rule is not susceptible to modification by the titleholder, a fortiori when the motives involved are petty and contrary to the Civil Code. I have the honour of bearing this charge since the death of my father, and my son will assume it in turn upon my death.
In early 2008, Charles announced plans to stand for election in March 2008 as mayor of Nemours, where he actually leads a union list called "Ensemble Pour Les Nemouriens" with local personalities, such as Ginette Tardy.