The military and political history of Andalusia assigns key roles to institutions such as military orders, confraternities, maestranzas and other cavalry corps, mostly promoted by the Crown with the intention that the local nobility would train in the use of horses and weaponry, ready for action at the call of the King.
The term “maestranza” did not come into use in Andalusia until the second half of the 17th century – it derives from “maestro”, a teacher of the art of combat horse-riding in the Arab-Andalusian style. By that time Ronda’s maestranza had already existed under a different name for two hundred years. The maestranzas of Seville, Granada and Valencia were founded in the last third of the XVII century and Zaragoza in 1819. A missive from Philip II to the leading citizens of Ronda dated September 6, 1572, suggested that they organize a local mounted militia. This was royal encouragement of an existing practice. For example, the nobility of Ronda had already set up a fighting force that intervened in 1569 in the war against the Moors.
The missive from Philip II, founding document of the Real Maestranza, proposed that “in the cities, towns and places of these Kingdoms, the knights and leading men of quality found and institute among themselves some Brotherhoods, Companies or Orders, dedicated to a Saint, with such Ordinances, conditions and chapters that establish, among other things, the celebration on certain days of festivities, jousts, tournaments and games of reeds and other military exercises.” The King made clear that all these activities were a serious part of training for mounted combat. These exercises or “games” included the spearing or lancing of fighting bulls from horseback – thus both rider and horse acquired skills in combat manoeuvres – and the showmanship involved began to attract spectators. On Tuesday, September 22, 1572 the corregidor, members of the city council and other leading citizens assembled in the town hall where Philip II’s request was read out loud. There followed the customary ritual whereby each of those present took off his hat, took the monarch’s letter in his hands, kissed it and placed it on his head as a sign of compliance. It was agreed that all the gentlemen (owners of horses) not present should be notified and then, as a first step, an area of land was cleared around the Plaza del Pozo, suitable for exercising and parading horses. A lance was acquired and horse bells so that on designated festive days all the horses and riders that so wished could participate.
A year after the King’s wishes had been read out in the town hall, the Confraternity of the Holy Spirit was duly founded with the specific ordinance of celebrating equestrian events “on the second day of Pentecost, on the feasts of San Juan and of San Pedro, at Shrovetide and on the feast of the Resurrection, and every Thursday when the young horsemen shall ride in the Plaza del Pozo, having Our Lady of Grace as their patron saint”.
A few years later, in 1575, Philip II sends further instructions to the loyal brotherhood in Ronda, encouraging them to take pains to breed “good horses for the guard and defence of the Kingdom”. The confraternity established ordinances providing for the conservation and improvement of the horse breed in Ronda and sets to work. During this time, the confraternity was to all effects “an educational institution, a true school of military instruction, whose catechism was encrypted in the gallant art of the genet (a soldier-horseman) and the wielding of the lance, displayed in public festivals on designated days, whose exercises and whose designation were established by their first and only ordinances» (Juan Pérez de Guzmán, La Casa del Rey Moro, Madrid 1920). La Casa del Rey Moro, Madrid 1920).
The founding of other military corps made up of nobility during the last third of the 17th century and the general acceptance of the term “maestranza” to designate them led the old Confraternity of the Holy Spirit to change its name. Its aims and activities remain unchanged but it undergoes an internal restructuring to adapt to the changing times. On October 17, 1706, a historic meeting is held in the grounds of the church of Our Lady of Grace in Ronda. The confraternity renames itself “maestranza de caballería” and becomes formally independent of the city council. New teachers are admitted.
The maestranza’s participation in the War of Succession (1701-1730), is recognized by Philip V’s awarding certain prerogatives all maestranzas which were ratified by Ferdinand VI on his accession. The “maestranza de caballería” becomes, with royal approval, the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, the name by which the institution is known today. Throughout the 18th century, the reigning monarch continued to bestow recognition on these institutions with a series of privileges. Philip V ordered that a member of the royal family should always be the Senior Confrère (Hermano Mayor), and later it would be the Monarch in person who occupied this position.
This period is considered to represent the zenith of the institution as a corporation of nobility. The number of members increases, the stud farm for horse breeding is established (an initiative that would end with the War of Independence), the drafting of new, modern ordinances is undertaken and an Academy of Minor Sciences is created for the offspring of its members. t is the time of the construction of the bullring and the rise of bullfighting as a mass spectator activity. The jousts and tournaments of the Carrera del Pozo are moved to the Plaza de Santa María la Mayor, the main town square at the time.
The emergence of the European nation states brought with it the formation of armies financed and controlled by the State. However, the military corps of the Real Maestranza de Ronda did not completely abandon its original task of defending the territory, as it demonstrated by joining other forces
to fight against the invading Napoleonic troops following the abdication of Carlos IV. he eventual accession to the throne of his son Ferdinand VII had been solemnly commemorated and celebrated by the Maestranza. In fact all four maestranzas were called upon to exhibit their equestrian skills on the occasion of the planned meeting of the new King with Napoleon I. The popular uprising against the French troops on May 2 would prevent the demonstration, and would give rise to the Maestranza Battalion, which participated in the Battle of Almonacid.
Having completed its historical commitment to providing military forces, the Ronda Maestranza continued to maintain its riding school and oriented its activities towards culture and charity.