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Henry V's sword on show at Agincourt ceremony at London's Westminster Abbey
Diana Heath, Metalwork Conservator at Westminster Abbey, adjusts the sword of King Henry V at Westminster Abbey in London on October 29, 2015, prior to a service to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt during which the sword will be paraded through the abbey and displayed on the altar. The sword was carried through the Abbey at Henry's funeral on November 7, 1422. England was this week celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, which took place on October 25, 1415, and is one of its greatest-ever battlefield victories, when king Henry V's longbow archers routed the French nobility. AFP PHOTO / POOL / NICK ANSELL.

LONDON (AFP).- King Henry V's sword formed the centrepiece of a ceremony at London's Westminster Abbey on Thursday to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, one of England's greatest-ever victories.

The battle on October 25, 1415 saw a heavily-outnumbered English army -- led by Henry -- inflict a catastrophic defeat on the French, altering the course of the Hundred Years' War.

Thursday's celebrations coincided with the 600th anniversary of news of the victory reaching London.

William Shakespeare immortalised the battle in 1599 play "Henry V", and his words were read during the service by 90-year-old actor Robert Hardy, who played the king in 1960.

The play's battle speeches have become part of the modern lexicon, including "Once more unto the breach, dear friends", "we happy few, we band of brothers", and "Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'"

Henry's sword was placed on the abbey's altar alongside one of his helmets, in front of 2,200 guests including the Duke of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent.

Henry, who was 28 at the time of the battle, is buried at the famous church, which also holds his shield and saddle.

Bishop of London Richard Chartres said that the battle's theme "of the triumph of the happy few" had endured throughout the ages and that Shakespeare's account had a modern relevance.

"Leadership is a hotly-debated topic at the moment in both the church and state and there's much to learn from Shakespeare's hero."

The anniversary has already been celebrated with commemorative services, Shakespeare performances, anniversary dinners, exhibitions, conferences and archery tournaments.

Casualty estimates from Agincourt vary widely, but English losses are thought to have numbered more than 100, while the French lost thousands, including around 40 percent of the French nobility on some counts.

The historic Worshipful Company of Bowyers, or bowmakers, held a special Agincourt Dinner last week to hailed the longbowmen who it described as "a key component in a stunning victory".

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

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