mid-15c., "fortified place, stronghold," from Old French fort "fort, fortress; strong man," noun use of adjective meaning "strong, stout, sturdy; hard, severe, difficult; hard to understand; dreadful, terrible; fortified" (10c.), from Latin fortis "strong, mighty; firm, steadfast; brave, spirited," from Old Latin forctus, which is of unknown etymology. Possibly from PIE root *bhergh- (2) "high, elevated," with derivatives referring to hills and hill-forts, or possibly from *dher- "to hold firmly, support." Figurative use of hold the fort attested from 1590s.
late 14c., "moral strength (as a cardinal virtue); courage," from Latin fortitudo "strength, force, firmness, manliness," from fortis "strong, brave" (see fort). From early 15c. as "physical strength."
1640s, fort, from French fort "strong point (of a sword blade)," earlier "fort, fortress" (see fort). Meaning "strong point of a person, that in which one excels," is from 1680s. Final -e- added 18c. in imitation of Italian forte "strong."
early 14c., from Old French forteresse, forterece "strong place, fortification" (12c.), variant of fortelesse, from Medieval Latin fortalitia, from Latin fortis "strong" (see fort) + -itia, added to adjectives to form nouns of quality or condition. French -ess from Latin -itia also is in duress, largesse, riches, also obsolete rudesse, "lack of cultivation" (early 15c.).
For change of medial -l- to -r- in Old French, compare orme "elm" from Latin ulmus; chartre from cartula; chapitre from capitulum.
late 13c., conforten "to cheer up, console, soothe when in grief or trouble," from Old French conforter "to comfort, to solace; to help, strengthen," from Late Latin confortare "to strengthen much" (used in Vulgate), from assimilated form of Latin com-, here perhaps an intensive prefix (see com-), + fortis "strong" (see fort).
The change of -n- to -m- began in English 14c. In Middle English also "give or add strength to" (c. 1300); "encourage, urge, exhort" (c. 1300). Related: Comforted; comforting.