English is a language with a storied history. It has been around in a recognizable form for about 1,600 years, since the fall of the Roman Empire. It started out as Anglo-Saxon, which was itself a mishmash of dialects within England's various warring kingdoms. Once the kingdom was united, the language began to coalesce. Regular infusions of Norse and Germanic words came from raiders, expanding the vocabulary. Then came the Norman invasion, with a whole lot of Gallic words. English remained the language of the people, but French was the language of court for several centuries. Eventually that passed away and the French melted into the English, adding yet more words, rules and structures.
This marked the arrival of Middle English into the Medieval period, which you'd probably be able to read relatively easily, even if you never studied it. As the Renaissance got underway, Middle English became more standardized, even though the idea of standardization was not yet popular. People wrote dictionaries more to record what they heard around them than to be prescriptive. Even in Shakespeare's day, there was no such thing as "bad" spelling. After all, hardly anyone could read and the printing press was pretty nascent, so you didn't need to agree on a system that worked for everyone.
Then came Dr. Johnson's dictionary, the invention of proper spelling and the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly literacy was a big deal, and it started to really matter that everyone was on the same page - literally. Over the next 100 years, proper spelling became a sign of intelligence and education. It's not an exact science, as language changes and even some very smart people just can't come to grips with spelling. However, it's a great skill to have.
Are you a top-notch speller? Let's find out!