Born in Turin in 1798, to the son of the Prince of Carignano, Carlo Emanuele, and Albertina Maria Cristina of Saxony. His education took place when Piedmont was already annexed to Napoleonic France. He first studied in Geneva, then Paris, where his tutors did all they could to make him forget his origins.

At the fall of Napoleon he re-entered Turin. He married Maria Teresa of Tuscany in 1817 and displayed liberal sympathies. In 1821, having become regent for the kingdom in the absence of the new king, Carlo Felice, he conceded the Spanish constitution. He was disavowed by the monarch, who forced him to make amends by sending him to fight with the French in Spain to suppress the liberal revolution. He distinguished himself there at the Battle of Trocadero in 1823.

Carlo Felice died and Carlo Alberto succeeded him to the throne in 1831. Although anti-Austria, he put down the Mazzini conspiracy. He also introduced a series of reforms. He abolished domestic customs barriers, promulgated the Albertine Code along napoleonic lines and defended the arts and sciences.

He conceded the Statute in 1848 and a constitutional regime that remained in place for one hundred years. The same year he declared war on Austria, champion of absolute rule. However, he was defeated at Novara in 1849 and, rather than redraw the Statute, abdicated in favour of his son, Vittorio Emanuele. He then left for exile in Oporto, where he died the same year.