Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller 

Portrait of Friedrich von Schiller

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was a German poet, physician, playwright, philosopher and historian. He was principally a member of the Sturm and Drang period which was a proto Romantic movement. He was born on 10th November 1759 in Marbach am Neckar, Germany and died on 9th May 1805 in Weimar, Germany aged 45.

Major Works

Die Räuber ” (The Robbers) (1781)
“Ode to Joy” (1785)
Wallenstein Trilogy” (1800)
“Die Jungfrau von Orleans” (The Maid of Orleans) (1801)
Wilhelm Tell” (1804)

Biography Timeline

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was born on 10th November 1759 in Marbach, Württemberg in Germany. His father Johann Kaspar Schiller was a military doctor. His mother Elisabetha Dorothea, nee Kodweiss, was the daughter of an innkeeper. Friedrich was the only son but had five sisters. The household was very religious and Schiller studied the Bible copiously. 

1763: At the end of the Seven Years War his father becomes a recruiting officer and is stationed in Schwabish Gmund and the family move there to Lorch to be with him. Schiller receives his primary education there. As his parents wish him to enter the church, he is taught Latin and Greek by the local priest, Father Moser.

1766: His father has not been paid for three years and so he becomes superintendent of the gardens at Ludwigsburg, the residence of Duke Karl Eugen of Wurttemberg. 

1773: The Duke decrees that Schiller should enter the Karlsschule, his military academy, to study law but he transfers to medicine. He reads widely, especially John Jacques Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Whilst still at the academy he begins writing “Die Räuber” (The Robbers) which concerns the conflict between two aristocratic brothers.

1780: He becomes a regimental doctor in Stuttgart a position he dislikes.

1781: “Die Räuber” (The Robbers) is published.

1782: The first performance of “Die Räuber” takes place on 13th January in Mannheim. To get it performed at all he had to tone down the rebellious nature of the original language but Schiller himself becomes an overnight sensation. In order to attend the performance, he leaves his regiment without permission and is arrested and sentenced to 14 days imprisonment. Duke Karl Eugen forbids him from publishing any further works. To escape he flees Stuttgart and goes to Frankfurt and Mannheim. During the journey he has an affair with Charlotte von Kalb an army officer’s wife. He begins writing “Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua” (Fiesco’s Conspiracy at Genoa) set in 1547.

1783: “Fiesco” is premiered in Bonn at the Hoftheater after at first being rejected. Schiller now a fugitive lodges with Henriette von Wolzogen in Bauerbach in Thuringia, whose sons had been his fellow students.

1784: He finishes his third tragedy, the five act play “Kabale und Liebe” (Cabal and Love) about a young aristocrat’s love for a girl of humble birth. It is first performed on 13th April at the Schauspiel in Frankfurt. He is eventually offered an appointment as resident playwright with the Mannheim theatre.

1785: His contract at Mannheim is not renewed and he is short of money once more. He moves to Leipzig where he makes friends with Christian Gottfried Körner whose wealth supports him for two years.

1787: Towards the end of his time in Leipzig Schiller completes “Don Carlos”, his first drama in iambic pentameter. It is set in Spain in the reign of King Philip the Second whose son falls in love with his stepmother and it is first produced in Hamburg. He also writes “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy) which Ludwig van Beethoven will use in the final movement of his ninth symphony. In July Schiller moves on the Weimar in the hope of meeting likeminded literary people.

1788: He writes “Geschichte des Abfalls der Vereinigten Niederlande von der Spanischen Regierung” (History of the Revolt of the United Netherlands against the Spanish Government) and the poem“Die Götter Griechenlandes” (The Gods of Greece).

1789: He is appointed professor of History and Philosophy at Jena University on the recommendation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

1790: He marries the aristocratic Charlotte von Lengefeld on 22nd February and the couple go on to have two sons and two daughters.

1791: He begins writing “Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Krieges” (History of the Thirty Years’ War) which is published in 1793 and enhances his credentials as an historian as well as a poet and playwright. 

1792: His health begins to decline under the strain of overwork and he becomes critically ill with chest and digestive problems and although he recovers slightly, he will never get better.

1793: After reading Immanuel Kant’s philosophy he begins a series of essays seeking to define aesthetic activity and its relevance to morality and society and publishes some in the literary journal “Die Horen” published by Johann Friedrich Cotta, whom he meets in Swabia.

1794: A chance meeting between Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe marks the beginning of their friendship.

1797: He writes the ballads “Der Handschuh” (The Glove), “Der Taucher” (The Diver) and “Die Kraniche des Ibykus” (The Cranes of Ibycus) which become popular with ordinary working people.

1799: Schiller returns to Weimar with his family and Goethe convinces him to start writing plays again. They form the Weimar Theatre together. He writes the “Wallenstein” trilogy about Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, the commander-in-chief of the Holy Roman Empire’s army during the Thirty Years War.

1800: The “Wallenstein” trilogy is published consisting of the five act plays “Wallensteins Lager” (Wallenstein’s Camp) and “Wallensteins Tod” (Wallenstein’s Death) as well as the prologue “Die Piccolomini” (The Piccolomini). He then produces four more plays including “Maria Stuart” (Mary Stuart) about Mary Queen of Scots last days which is premiered on 14th June.

1801: He writes “Die Jungfrau von Orleans” (The Maid of Orleans) about Joan of Arc.

1802: He is ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar and is allowed to use von in his name.

1803: He writes “Die Braut von Messina” (The Bride of Messina).

1804: Finally, he writes “Wilhelm Tell” (William Tell) about the revolt of the Swiss forest cantons against Habsburg rule. 

Friedrich Schiller died on 9th May 1805 in Weimar, Saxe Weimar, Germany of tuberculosis whilst he was writing “Demetrius.” He was buried three days later, in a mausoleum for distinguished citizens without a family grave, in Jacob’s cemetery. His wife planned to move him later however the cheaply made coffin disintegrated and his body got mixed with others in a mass grave. In 1826 Weimar’s Mayor had the grave opened and over twenty skulls were found. The gravedigger decided the largest must be Schiller’s and it was given to Johan Wolfgang von Goethe who kept it at home. In 1827 the body was then interred, complete with skull, in Weimar’s Ducal vault but DNA tests in the 21st century showed that it was not Schillers and the grave (next to Goethe’s) is now empty.

Further Information

Online texts of the works of Schiller.