Yesterday, I wrote in my review of Gloriana's Torch, "I think fictional protagonists are one of the more successful strategies for grounding a novel in a historical period."
I would like to expound on why I have found this to be so.
1) The reader has no expectations for the fictional character. Therefore, the author is free to characterize him or her as he or he chooses, without falling into the snare of contradicting the personalities of historical characters or running up against readers' preconceived notions of them.
2) The author can place a fictional character in any life situation or historical event that is convenient for the author's purposes and there is no historical contradiction.
3) A fictional character can have more in common and more appeal to the modern reader than a historical character might. For example, a fictional character could have anachronistic opinions about women's rights or minority rights without causing contradiction with a historical character (if the author is careful not to be TOO anachronistic)and therefore be more in tune with the average modern reader's sympathies.
What do you think? Do you prefer historical or fictional protagonists for historical fiction? A mix of both?