- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 5, 2012

LONDON (AP) - 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.

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