I know that not all DMs research heavily before they play, but I find that illustrations help anyone. Plus, I love rooting through pretty old books with their decorated margins and their scrumptious woodcuts. So I’m upping links to a selection of interesting, freely-downloadable books from the Early Modern period, dealing with soldiering and adventuring. You’ll find more details on the landing pages: these are just a link and a reason you should care about any given book. This list will be expanding as I can be arsed, and may move to a sub-page.
(edit: added several books, cleaned up descriptions)
Note: these following books are in French, but the primary utility for most of you is in the images, not the text.
Trophee’ des Armes &c. – great images of various contemporary military ranks, as well as a discussion of infantry drill
Traite’ des armes &c. – less great, but highly usable low-grade woodcuts of men employing various weapons, as well as the weapons themselves. A classic work.
De Gheyn’s Drill Manual – THE period drill book. Originally Dutch, but translated into English, German, French, Italian, even Swedish and Danish. Covers firearms as well as pike drill; used for the better part of a century all over Europe. The detailed woodcuts served as the model for virtually all of the images you’ll ever see of a Musketeer; even Osprey ripped them off completely for their English Civil War and Early Firearms books. This is the one I linked on the Lamentations G+ list, so if you frequent there you’ve probably already seen it.
Art Militaire’ a Cheval – Cavalry manual, including a number of woodcuts of Cavalry getting it very nastily from pikemen, images of contemporary weaponry, etc.
English books, more valuable for research etc. Keep in mind, there are period works in here, so get a decent dictionary handy if you’re not used to reading Randomm fhittes from the Century &c. XV. In addition, they are pretty heavily-skewed towards the English opinion of things, which we shall charitably call “humorously misinformed” on certain topics. Also, keep in mind the idea of a nation-state was born at the end of this period. “Nations” here are a web of loyalties/oaths to a sovereign, not rigorously defined areas.
The History of the Conquest of Mexico Volume I & Volume II– De Solis. First read this in a reprint when I was about 14. It’s good for staging a “survival horror” Conquista, which is a genre that gets nowhere near enough attention.
Another history of the Conquest etc. – Cortes furiously masturbates to his own awesomeness. Want to read a PC’s diary? Here you go.
The Draughts* of The Most Remarkable Fortified Townes in Europe.. – 1571. Discusses each town’s fortifications in detail, as well as the general methods of fortification, before diving into some extremely well-executed etchings of the town’s defensive works. Great for mapping your own cities. Or stealing outright.
(*Drafts/detailed planning drawings, not pulls of booze. Or checkers.)
The Military History of the Late Prince Eugene of Savoy and of the Late John, Duke of Marlborough Volume I & Volume II– Remember how I mentioned the War of Spanish Succession? The one between England, France, and Austria, fought in Italy and Holland over Spain? Have some delicious, incredibly detailed primary source along with tasty, tasty copperplates and woodcuts. This collates English, German, and French sources as well as being a decent primary in its own right. Unfortunately, the pull-out images of some of the battles and most of the seige/town diagrams are lost in the fold on this scan, because Google does not love you.
History of the Late Campaign in Flanders – written about 20 years before the previous books, about the same campaign. Lot less flowery.
Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases &c. – About the Salem Witch-trials. From the 1900s, but preserves many primary and secondary documents from the period. A great study for building a witch-hysteria of your own.
History of the Buccaneers of America – Delightfully trashy “history” book you can mine for villains, NPCs, and the odd spell. Warning: Cannibalism. Also rape.