On 16 October 1685, Louis XIV dispatched four companies of infantry to the town of Puylaurens, 45 kilometres to the east of Toulouse. Their mission? Demolish the Protestant temple and force the townsfolk to convert to Catholicism (in French, the word temple is commonly used to describe a Protestant church).
The end of religious freedom
A week later, the Sun King signed a new order that revoked all the freedoms that had been granted to the Protestants in the Edict of Nantes of 1598. In brief, his new edict decreed the destruction of all Protestant churches and academic establishments; outlawed all forms of Protestant worship; gave pastors a fortnight to choose between converting to Catholicism and going into exile; and banned all other Protestants from emigrating, on pain of the galleys for the men and prison for the women.
Despite the dangers of trying to flee the country, this triggered an exodus of biblical proportions. How many people fled is uncertain: estimates range from 200,000 to a million. Most sought asylum in neighbouring countries including England, Holland, Prussia and Switzerland, and four thousand fugitives found sanctuary in New York and Virginia.
For a much longer exploration of the role Puylaurens played in the Wars of Religion, see Section VI of my book Lauragais: Soaked in Blood, Steeped in History.Lauragais