LONDON — There were six figures on the balcony, three generations of royalty – and one large absence.

Queen Elizabeth II's appearance at Buckingham Palace with her family on Tuesday capped a triumphant Diamond Jubilee weekend for a British monarchy that has overcome years of crisis and seems secure in its subjects' hearts.

But the absence of 90-year-old Prince Philip – hospitalized Monday with a bladder infection – was a poignant reminder that the queen's 60-year reign won't last forever. And the presence of divisive heir to the throne Prince Charles alongside the wildly popular Prince William and his wife Catherine hinted at an uncertain future.

"What we forget is that monarchy is just the people doing the job," said royal historian Robert Lacey. "In a sense this jubilee looks to the future rather sadly. It could be the queen's last jubilee, and it is a jubilee in which she has relegated many of her public duties" to younger family members.

Yet the royal family will be overjoyed with the public response to the jubilee, which the queen, in a televised address, called "a humbling experience."

Fears that the celebrations would be met with apathy in an anxious, recession-afflicted Britain were unfounded. Enormous crowds greeted the queen over the four-day celebration. More than 1 million people lined the Thames on Sunday for a river pageant, despite dismal weather, and hundreds of thousands packed the Mall outside Buckingham Palace on Tuesday for a glimpse of the royal family.

Republican protesters did their best to dissent, staging demonstrations bearing placards demanding "Make Monarchy History," but they were vastly outnumbered – and drowned out by choruses of "God Save the Queen."

The well-wishers came in all ages, from across Britain and around the world, and many seemed genuinely moved.

Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand – one of 16 countries in which the queen is head of state – said the jubilee had brought a "natural outpouring" of popular feeling.

"People wanted to show their admiration for the queen and their respect for the job that she has done," he told the BBC.

The jubilation was a triumph of brand renewal that has been 15 years in the making. After decades of declining deference, the modern monarchy reached its lowest ebb during the 1990s in a blaze of unflattering headlines. Three of the queen's four children got divorced – most spectacularly, Charles from the wildly popular Princess Diana. Though both conceded infidelity, public opinion sided with Diana, generally viewed as an innocent devoured by the ruthless royal "Firm."

When Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, the royal family was criticized as aloof and unfeeling, in contrast to the wave of public mourning for "the people's princess."

Since then, the family and its staff have worked hard to turn around that image. The death of the much-loved Queen Mother Elizabeth in 2002 revived memories of World War II, a time of common purpose in which the royal family served as a unifying symbol.

In 2005, Charles married his longtime love Camilla in a low-key service, and a woman once viewed as a home wrecker has since come to be seen as a royal asset, a down-to-earth figure with a wicked sense of fun.

Last year's Westminster Abbey wedding of William and Kate Middleton was the crowning glory, an extravaganza of pomp and glamor that cemented the new couple – young, attractive, socially at ease – at the heart of a 21st-century monarchy.

In particular, Kate – now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – brings to the family a dash of celebrity glamor unseen since Diana. Her appearances make celebrity magazines and fashion pages. The scarlet Alexander McQueen dress she wore to Sunday's river pageant caused a buzz of comment: too spicy or just right?

While the queen is the heart of the monarchy and its link to the past, the young royals have helped it appear relevant.

The monarch wore ear plugs for Monday's jubilee pop concert outside Buckingham Palace – she is thought to prefer opera. But William and Harry could be seen singing along enthusiastically to the likes of Tom Jones, Paul McCartney and Elton John.

The image of the relaxed young royals is a sign of how much, and how cannily, the monarchy changed with the times.

Throughout the jubilee, the queen was cast as a servant of the British people, rather than their sovereign.

"I think the monarchy has always adapted itself to contemporary circumstances, and has become what I call a public service monarchy," said Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional expert and professor at King's College London.

He said efforts by the queen to keep the monarchy in tune with contemporary Britain and her decision to prioritize the royal family's work with charities and good causes have safeguarded the institution's future.

In a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul's Cathedral on Tuesday, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams pointedly contrasted the queen's "60 years of utterly demanding yet deeply joyful service" with the "ludicrous financial greed" and other ills of wider society.

The decision to have only the core royals – the queen, Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry – appear on the palace balcony, rather than the extended family, gave an image of a stripped-down monarchy for austere times.

Philip's illness, however, provided a note of sadness and uncertainty amid the celebration.

The prince was said Tuesday to be doing well in a London hospital, but he will be 91 on Sunday and is increasingly frail. The queen, at 86, is already Britain's longest-lived monarch. Only her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, reigned for longer.

The queen's popularity is unassailable, but opinion polls consistently show Britons would prefer William to succeed her, rather than his father Charles. That is considered unlikely, as is any early abdication by the queen.

The 63-year-old Prince of Wales is a more divisive figure than his mother. While the queen's political views are a mystery, Charles often makes his thoughts known. (Likes: organic farming. Dislikes: most modern architecture).

But Bogdanor said Charles' support for unexpected causes, including ethnic minorities, Islamic and Hindu religious communities and young unemployed people, would see him achieve the same adulation as the queen.

"I think he will become as popular as the queen when he becomes king," Bogdanor said. "The challenge will be exactly the same, of adapting the monarchy to modern times, and I think he will respond in the same way."

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Associated Press Writer David Stringer contributed to this report.

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II views an inscription dedicated to Queen Victoria at the foot of the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, in central London, alongside Dean of St Paul's, David Ison, following a service of thanksgiving. (AP Photo/ Dominic Lipinski, PA)

  • Vehicles carrying the royal family drive along the streets where crowds line up to watch the carriage procession in London Tuesday June 5, 2012. The carriage procession is part of a four-day Diamond Jubilee celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II accession to the throne. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel/Pool)

  • This is a view of the interior St. Paul's Cathedral London, during a service of thanksgiving to celebrate Britain's Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee Tuesday June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Murray Sanders, Pool)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth, right, attends a thanksgiving service with Prince Charles, centre, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at St Paul's Cathedral in central London Tuesday June 5, 2012. Four days of nationwide celebrations during which millions of people have turned out to mark Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee conclude on Tuesday with a church service and carriage procession through central London. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett, Pool)

  • Britain's Prince William, right, Kate Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are seated during a service of thanksgiving to celebrate Britain's Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee in St Paul's Cathedral London Tuesday June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Murray Sanders, Pool)

  • Duchess of Cambridge, Duke of Cambridge

    The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend a National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral in central London, to which 2,000 people were invited, as part of four days of celebrations to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Tuesday, June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan, Pool)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, depart St Paul,s Cathedral following the service of thanksgiving during Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Tuesday June 5, 2012 in London. (AP Photo/Jeff J Mitchell, Pool)

  • Princess Beatrice, front left, and her sister Princess Eugene wait for their car outside St Paul's Cathedral following a national service of thanksgiving for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in London, Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Centre rear is Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and at right, Prince Andrew, Duke of York. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

  • The Dean of St Paul's Cathedral David Ison and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II look at a commemorative inscription to Queen Victoria, Britain's only other monarch who reigned for 60 years and more, outside St Paul's Cathedral, London following a national service of thanksgiving for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Tuesday, June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, depart St Paul,s Cathedral following the service of thanksgiving a service of thanksgiving during Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Tuesday June 5, 2012 in London. (AP Photo/Jeff J Mitchell, Pool)

  • Kate, Duchess of Cambridge talks to religious leaders as she arrives at St Paul's Cathedral for a national service of thanksgiving for the Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her Queen's Diamond Jubilee in London, Tuesday, June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

  • Elizabeth II

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is driven from Buckingham Palace to St Paul's Cathedral, central London for a service of thanksgiving, Tuesday, June 5, 2012, to conclude the four-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Spectators wait for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family to pass along The Mall for a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations Tuesday June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

  • Angelika Wagner, from Ohio, sits on the Mall while waiting for the start of a pop music concert at Buckingham Palace to help celebrate Britain's Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign during Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London, Monday, June 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Tim Hales)