Once more into the breach to mark Agincourt

THE 600th anniversary of one of the most significant battles of the Anglo-French Hundred Years War was marked with a ceremony punctuated by Shakespeare at Westminster Abbey.

Diana Heath, Metalwork Conservator at Westminster Abbey, adjusts the sword of King Henry V, prior to a service to commemorate the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. The sword was carried through the Abbey at Henry's funeral on 7 November 1422. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 29, 2015. Photo credit should read: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

The sword and helm of King Henry V were placed on the altar for the service today to commemorate the Battle of Agincourt, in which members of the outnumbered English army emerged victorious against the French.

The event was attended by The Duke of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent, along with 2,200 guests.

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The battle, during which 6,000 Frenchmen and more than 400 English soldiers were killed, lies at the heart of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Actor Robert Hardy, 90, who played Henry V in 1960, read the play’s dramatic prologue which describes “the poor condemned English”.

He later said: “I was thinking about the situation which Shakespeare describes so brilliantly.”

Hardy said travelling to the site of the battle was an “extraordinary experience” because visitors could still see why the layout of the land – a narrow field that caused the sizeable French army to be “squashed” – was so critical.

“One can see how it all happened,” he said.

Hardy, who is also a longbow expert, said he could sympathise with the enormous challenge the bowmen faced.

But the importance of their role was “absolutely enormous”, he said.

Despite the momentous victory, Agincourt was not as successful as Henry had planned because his ultimate aim –to make two kingdoms into one – was never realised.

Hardy’s fellow actor, Sam Marks, who performs in The Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production, delivered the play’s Saint Crispin’s Day Speech in full costume.