Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller was born in Marbach (in present-day Baden-Württemberg, Germany) on November 10th, 1759.
His father Johann Kaspar Schiller was in the military, thus the family moved quite often and the
boy attended different schools.
He wanted to study theology, but in 1773 Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg ordered
Friedrich's father to send the boy to his new military academy (called "Pflanzschule" - that was actually a priviledge). There he studied first law,
then later on medicine. The school was very good, though Schiller didn't like the harsh discipline. He came
under the influence of enlightenment, liberal philosophy and the Sturm und Drang movement ("storm and stress").
Or rather, he himself wrote the most important "Sturm und Drang" drama in 1777 at the age
of 18 - Die Räuber ("the bandits"). In 1780 he got his degree and the Duke put him
to work as a doctor in military - a job Schiller didn't enjoy too much, for he had to
wear uniform, and the pay was rather low too.
Die Räuber had their debut performance in Mannheim in 1782. It was a rousing success.
Schiller, however, had had to go AWOL to see it, and when the Duke found out it got him
14 days arrest and a ban on further writing - therefore Schiller fled to Mannheim, out of
the Duke's dominion. There he wrote Fiesko and Kabale und Liebe and
started Don Carlos. He got a job at the theater in Mannheim, but fell ill with malaria.
Fiesko was no special success, but Kabale und Liebe was well received. Finally in 1785
woman trouble and financial trouble made Schiller move to Leipzig. There he stayed with friends and
finished Don Carlos. He wrote Ode an die Freude ("ode to joy") which was later
immortalized by Beethoven in his 9th symphony. Don Carlos became a great success at its debut
in Hamburg in 1787. He got to know fellow writers Christoph Martin Wieland and Johann Gottfried von Herder and
even worked for the latter's newspaper Der Teutsche Merkur.
In 1789 Schiller became of professor of history in Jena, a position in which he authored
several works, eg on the Thirty Years' War or the Spanish Netherlands. In 1790 Duke Karl August of Saxonia
made him a court counsellor (which meant a steady income) and he subsequently married Charlotte von Lengefeld. However, the following year
he fell ill with pneumonia and never fully recovered. He was awarded the French citizenship by the French National Convention in
1792. During his time in Jena he read up on the philosophy of Kant, which was to influence
him greatly in his "classical period".
In 1793 Schiller wrote several pieces on esthetics - Über Anmut und Würde ("on grace and dignity"),
Über das Erhabene ("on the sublime") and Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen
("on the esthetic education of man") - and founded a literary newspaper called Die Horen.
The next year he began a close friendship with fellow poet and general luminary
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and together they wrote Xenien. In 1797 he started working
on Wallenstein (about the commander Albrecht Wallenstein from the Thirty Years' War),
which would become a trilogy.
Over the next few years he wrote several ballads in a friendly competition with Goethe, eg
Die Bürgschaft or Das Lied von der Glocke (which I had to learn by
heart in school). In 1798 he started working on Maria Stuart and moved to Weimar
(which was a cultural center, Goethe lived there too) with his family the next year.
There he wrote Die Jungfrau von Orleans (about Joan of Arc). In 1801 he came down
with a bout of cholera. In 1803 he managed to write Die Braut von Messina and
Wilhelm Tell. On May 9th, 1805 Schiller died of pneumonia. He had 4 children:
Karl Friedrich Ludwig (born 1793), Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm (1796), Karoline Luise Friederike (1799)
and Emilie Henriette Luise (1804).
There are two distinct phases to Schiller's work, the early "Sturm und Drang" period, epitomized by
the revolutionary Die Räuber and the Weimar classic, for example Maria Stuart.
Friedrich Schiller was one of the most important German writers and together with Goethe
shaped German literature and culture.
A portrait can be found at http://www.klassiker-der-weltliteratur.de/images/schiller_portrait.jpg