1670s, "a nun," from clergy + woman on the model of clergyman. Not seriously as "woman pastor, woman of the clerical profession" until 1871; in between it was used humorously for "old woman" or "domineering wife of a clergyman." Clergess as "member of a female religious order" is attested from late 14c.; clergy-feme as "clergyman's wife or woman" is attested from 1580s.
past tense and past participle of have, from Old English gehæfd. Assimilation of -f- to a following consonant is typical (as also in woman, lord, lady, head (n.), leman). Used since late Old English as an auxiliary to make pluperfect tense-phrases. You never had it so good (1946) was said to be the stock answer to any complaints about U.S. Army life.
Middle English wif, wyf, from Old English wif (neuter) "woman, female, lady," also, but not especially, "wife," from Proto-Germanic *wīfa- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian wif, Old Norse vif, Danish and Swedish viv, Middle Dutch, Dutch wijf, Old High German wib, German Weib), of uncertain origin and disputed etymology, not found in Gothic.
Apparently felt as inadequate in its basic sense, leading to the more distinctive formation wifman (source of woman). Dutch wijf now means, in slang, "girl, babe," having softened somewhat from earlier sense of "bitch." The Modern German cognate (Weib) also tends to be slighting or derogatory; Middle High German wip in early medieval times was "woman, female person," vrouwe (Frau) being retained for "woman of gentle birth, lady;" but from c. 1200 wip "took on a common, almost vulgar tone that restricted its usage in certain circles" and largely has been displaced by Frau.
The more usual Indo-European word is represented in English by queen/quean. Words for "woman" also double for "wife" in some languages. Some proposed PIE roots for wife include *weip- "to twist, turn, wrap," perhaps with sense of "veiled person" (see vibrate); and more recently *ghwibh-, a proposed root meaning "shame," also "pudenda," but the only examples of it would be the Germanic words and Tocharian (a lost IE language of central Asia) kwipe, kip "female pudenda."
The modern sense of "female spouse" began as a specialized sense in Old English; the general sense of "woman" is preserved in midwife, old wives' tale, etc. Middle English sense of "mistress of a household" survives in housewife; and the later restricted sense of "tradeswoman of humble rank" in fishwife. By 1883 as "passive partner in a homosexual couple." Wife-swapping is attested from 1954.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "woman."
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit janis "a woman," gná "wife of a god, a goddess;" Avestan jainish "wife;" Armenian kin "woman;" Greek gynē "a woman, a wife;" Old Church Slavonic zena, Old Prussian genna "woman;" Gaelic bean "woman;" Old English cwen "queen, female ruler of a state, woman, wife;" Gothic qino "a woman, wife, qéns "queen."
Middle English quene "a woman; a low-born woman," from Old English cwene "woman," also "female serf, hussy, prostitute" (as in portcwene "public woman"), from Proto-Germanic *kwenon (source also of Old Saxon quan, Old High German quena, Old Norse kona, Gothic qino "wife, woman," Middle Dutch quene "vain or worthless woman"), from PIE root *gwen- "woman." Compare queen (n.). The -ea- spelling is attested from early 15c.
Woman considered without regard to qualities or position (perhaps by contrast to the senses in queen), hence often a slighting or abusive term for a woman; in Middle English it could mean "a harlot; an old woman or crone," and it was in popular use 16c.-17c. in the sense of "hussy." But in Scottish often with a sense of "young, robust woman" (late 15c.).
The sense of "effeminate homosexual" is recorded by 1935, according to Partridge this was especially in Australian slang.