Napoléon Bonaparte established the French Empire, also known as the Napoléonic Empire, in 1804 and immediately installed himself as Emperor. He also declared that the imperial throne would pass through his legitimate male descendants. If he had no male descendants, claim to the throne would pass first to his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte and his legitimate male descendants and then to his younger brother, Louis Bonapart and his legitimate male descendants. Napoléon excluded Lucien Bonaparte (the oldest brother) and Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte because the either opposed him or entered into marriages that Napoléon did not approve. People wondered why Napoléon established this order of succession while married to Josephine, a woman too old to have children. Without permission of the Catholic church, Napoléon annulled his marriage to Josephine to marry Mary Louise of Austria. They had one son, Napoléon II, who died from tuberculosis at age 21 on July 22, 1832. He died without marrying or having children, leaving no direct male descendants of Napoléon I.
Joseph Bonaparte, first in line to succeed Napoléon II, had only daughters. When Joseph died on July 28, 1844, succession passed to his brother, Louis Bonaparte. When the Napoléonic Empire was restored to power, Napoléon III, the only legitimate male descendant of Louis Bonaparte became emperor. Napoléon III decreed that if his male line became extinct, claim to the throne would pass to Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte, youngest brother of Napoléon I, who had been excluded until he married Princess Catharina of Württemberg. His male descendants from this marriage became eligible to claim the throne.
Line of Succession: Napoléon I (Napoléon Bonaparte), Napoléon II (Napoléon Francois Bonaparte), Joseph I (Joseph Bonaparte), Louis I (Louis Bonapart), Napoléon III (Napoléon Eugène Bonaparte), Napoléon IV Eugène (Napoléon Eugène, Prince Imperial), Napoléon V Victor (Prince Napoléon Victor Bonaparte), Napoléon VI Louis (Prince Louis Napoléon), Napoléon VII Jean Christophe (Prince Jean-Christoph Napoléon). Line of succession skipped Napoléon VII Charles (Prince Charles Napoléon) at the direction of Napoléon VI.
The most recognized head of the House of Bonaparte is heir, Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, the great-great-great grandnephew of Napoléon I of France. Born 11 July 1986, a son of Prince Charles Napoléon and Princess Béatrice of Bourbon-Two Siciles, became heir to the House of Bonaparte in the will of his grandfather, Louis, Prince Napoléon who died in 1997.