"Did I not tell you this would happen? I knew they would never allow me to live, I was too great an obstacle to their religion." - Mary, Queen of Scots
The position in history of Mary Queen of Scots is a paradoxical one. Her fame as a monarch lies less in her personality or achievements than in her position within the dynastic maneuvers and political-religious upheavals taking place in northwest Europe in the 16th century. Most monarchs spend their early years learning in preparation to rule and then spend the latter part of their lives wielding power and status. Mary was thrust upon the throne when she was only a week old, and she ceased to be queen nearly 20 years before her death.
Mary's was an unusual reign in a tumultuous period, and her tragedy was intertwined with her country's transformation. In Mary's case, she was a second cousin once removed of England's Queen Elizabeth I, which made her a rival for the throne. Mary was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, and her Catholicism made Mary the true and rightful Queen of England in the eyes of many Catholics and the Vatican.
These facts, coupled with the realization that several English supported Mary, made Elizabeth I uneasy. Mary also did not help herself when she married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who was widely accused of raping her. The Scottish people rebelled, and Mary abdicated and fled southwards towards England.
Elizabeth I was unsure at first what to do with Mary, so she kept Mary imprisoned in several castles and manor houses inside England (making escape difficult and thus unlikely). After 18 years in Elizabeth's custody, it became clear that the situation was becoming untenable.