The Influence Of Latin.
English was first written down between 500 and 800 AD. Eberything had to be written by hand and the only people who could do this were scribes who were church people. They wrote in the dialect they spoke so there were different spelling systems in different parts of the country.
The alphabet they used wasn't designed for English. It was borrowed from Romans who used it to write Latin. They had borrowed it from the Greeks who has borrowed it from phoenicians. This didn't fit the sounds of English & so scribes were forced to find a new way to write sounds.
Latin had no way of writing down a 'th' sound an so the scribes used two different symbols. Latin also had no 'w' which was commonly used in old english so it was written as 'uu'. This is why it is called double u.
The Influence Of Norman French.
Spelling became more complicated after the Normans conquered England in 1066. Many french words were brought into English and were spelt in the french way.
French never sounded an 'h' if it was at the beginning of a word. Words in English such as 'honest' & 'hour' are spelled with an h at the beginning but not pronounced as the are french.
Normans sometimes used french spelling rules to write english words. The french put a silent u in guess as in french if a g was follwed by an e it would sound like j. They also tried to write english words which put sounds together that they weren't used to. They changed the spelling to look french. cwic - quick.
Norman scribes also introduced a new form of handwriting. In this writing it was hard to tell how many lines had been made when letters like i, m, n, v & w were written together.
Chnages In Pronunciation & Printing.
Between 1400 & 1600 there were great changes in the way words were pronounced in Britain. This is another reason why words were no longer being spelled as they sounded. For instance people stopped saying the l in would and should but carried on writing it.
Spelling first began to be standardised when printing was introduced in the 1470s. It was to expensive for printers to keep on changing spellings and many spellings today are the ones that best suited the printers.
Printers could have quite an infuence on the way words were eventually spelled. For example, Caxton who brought the printing press to england lived in a part of Europe where the Flemish language was spoken & introduced a flemish way of spelling words with a gh such as 'ghost' & 'ghastly'. Even gherle (girl) & ghoos (goose) which have no been dropped.