The original meaning of husband is the head of a household. The word, which dates to Old English, is a compound of hús, meaning house, and bónda, meaning peasant or yeoman. The root of the second element, búa or bóa, means to dwell. So a husband is literally one who lives in a house. From a translation of the Gospel of Matthew, written c.1000:
Ne sitte ge on þam fyrme-stan setlum þe læs þe...se husbonda hate þe arisan.
(Nor stay you on the first place in the field...the husband ordered them to arise.)
A second, related, meaning arose in the early 13th century meaning someone who cultivated a plot of land. From a Bestiary written c.1220:
Fox is hire to name...husebondes hire haten, for hire harm dedes.
(Fox is her name...husbands hate her, for her harmful deeds.)
The sense of a man married to a woman is also a 13th century one and comes from the head of household sense. From the Early South English Legendary, written c.1290:
Is wif gret Ioie made with hire housebonde.
(The wife makes great joy with her husband.)
The verb to husband appears in the 15th century, meaning to cultivate, to till the soil. This sense also gives rise to the word husbandry. It appears as a verbal noun in the c.1420 translation of Palladius on husbondrie:
Oon good poynt of husbondyng.
(One good point of husbanding.)
The sense meaning to wisely manage, to economize is also a 15th century one. It is glossed in the c.1440 lexicon Promptorium Parvulorum Sive Clericorum:
Husbondyn, or wysely dyspendyn worldely goodys.
(Husbanding, or wisely spending worldly goods.)
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton