This paper examines the changing nature of the local power structure of a rural county in the UK during the 20th century. In contrast to previous accounts, which have focused on the material factors behind political restructuring, this paper follows recent thinking in political geography in considering the interrelation between ‘the cultural’ and ‘the political’. Using empirical examples from Somerset, the evolution of the local power structure is examined from the perspective of the discourses of power and rurality used to legitimate the leadership position of political elites. Domination of local governance at the start of the century by a landowning elite based on discourses of ‘the country gentleman’ and ‘stewardship’ is replaced after the first world war by a broader elite of landowners and farmers united by discourses of ‘agriculture’ and ‘community’. After the second world war the power structure fragments under pressure from new non-agricultural political actors acting within an environmentalist discourse. The paper concludes by discussing the empirically derived model in the context of the concept of ‘societalization’.